Canadian Underwriter

State of emergency delays adjusters’ response to ‘Snowmageddon’ in Newfoundland

January 20, 2020   by David Gambrill

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Buried under a record-breaking 76 cm of snow over a 48-hour period, and with 15-20 cm more snow in the forecast Monday, it will be a while before claims adjusters will be able to assess the damage of the massive winter blizzard that hit Newfoundland & Labrador last weekend.

A half buried car is parked in St. John’s on Saturday, January 18, 2020. The state of emergency ordered by the City of St. John’s is still in place, leaving businesses closed and vehicles off the roads in the aftermath of the major winter storm that hit the Newfoundland and Labrador capital. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

St. John’s and neighbouring cities in the eastern part of the province were under states of emergency Monday after the winter blast started Friday. Residents were ordered to stay off the streets and businesses were shut down while emergency crews worked to clear out huge snowdrifts that resulted from Category 2 hurricane-force winds that accompanied the storm.

As of Sunday night, 76.2 cm of snow had fallen at St. John’s International Airport, according to Environment Canada data cited by Global News. The city of Mount Pearl, which neighbours St. John’s, received 93 cm of snow, while the town of Paradise received 91 cm. In St. John’s, the winds during the storm gusted between 105 km/h and 134 km/h.

Crawford & Company (Canada) and Intact Insurance both confirmed to Canadian Underwriter that it’s too soon to tell the true extent of the damage because adjusters on the ground are still subject to the emergency ban.

“As you know, St. John’s is still under a state of emergency from the snow storm over the weekend,” Intact said in a statement to Canadian Underwriter. “While our St. John’s office remains closed due to the state of emergency, our other offices are ready to help customers affected by the snow storm in Newfoundland. Our call centre is available 24/7 if customers need to open a claim or they can also do so via Intact’s Client Centre, our online portal.  Our field adjusters will be on the ground as soon as we are provided access by the authorities and when it is safe for employees to do so.”

Adjusters for Crawford, likewise, reported that they were eager to help claimants as soon as the state of emergency was lifted.

“The state-of-emergency has slowed down the reporting of new claims as businesses have not yet surveyed their damages and homeowners continue the large task of removing snow from their properties, which will likely reveal damage,” said Shelley Landry, vice president of eastern Canada operations for Crawford & Company Adjusters (Canada). “When the state-of-emergency is lifted, we expect to see an increase in new claims reports and calls for assistance and are prepared to respond.

“Crawford anticipates receiving property damage claims caused by wind and snow during the storm itself. We are also anticipating claims reporting in the coming days and weeks related to snow load on roofs and structures, and water damage related to melting snow.

“Similarly, there are expected to be automobile claims reported with wind, water, and snow load damage. Businesses may also present business interruption claims for the period of time they were forced to close during and after the storm.”

During a press conference Sunday afternoon, Canada’s Minister of Defence, Harjit Sajjan, said between 150 and 200 military personnel would on the ground by the end of the day Monday — a number that could increase to 300. Two Hercules aircraft and helicopters are also being made available.

Social media was alive with pictures and videos showing an epic scale of snowdrifts. Opened front and garage doors showed a wall of white snow, with only a peek at the sky seen in the uppermost parts of the door frame. Parked cars are buried under snowdrifts. There has been a massive hunt for one person lost in the snow, and the whiteout conditions forced the city’s snow plow operators off the roads over the weekend because of safety concerns.

One high priority right now for the city of St. John’s is to provide access to pharmacies for medication, as well as access to the hospital, so that the current shift of hospital workers can be relieved.

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