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A 71-year-old pensioner who was rescued from rising floodwaters is outraged at her insurance company after being told she had to provide photographic evidence of her wrecked car to receive an immediate payout.
Stephanie, a resident of the Alma Court Village in Milford on Auckland’s North Shore, was rescued from her home after Auckland’s unprecedented rainfall on January 27 caused a nearby river to overflow and flood multiple properties and surrounding streets.
But after being plucked to safety she faced a new headache when her insurance company, AMI, told her it was company policy to have photographic evidence for flooded vehicle claims and that failure to do so meant they could not make an immediate payout.
AMI yesterday afternoon said it had reviewed her claim and agreed to settle. It apologised to her for the experience.
“I was standing on my bed with water lapping around it and waiting to be rescued, how on earth was I supposed to take a photo of my car? That’s the last thing I was thinking about,” she said.
Stephanie said AMI claimed it would need to tow the car away for assessment, delaying any payout by at least 10 days and possibly longer because of the number of flood-related claims.
“The minute we stepped out the door the water was almost up to my neck. What was I supposed to do, hold my camera up in the air and take a photo? It is ridiculous,” said Stephanie.
AMI later told Stephanie that if the car proved to be a total loss the payout would be $2300 with a $400 excess, making it net $1900.
She claimed that multiple identical models of her vehicle that had racked up far more kilometres were being sold on Trade Me for more than $5000.
Stephanie’s primary rescuer, Ash Diamond, was initially responding to a call from his uncle, another resident at the Alma Court Village, pleading to be saved as floodwater rose in his house.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, I genuinely didn’t realise we were walking into the situation we were about to walk into,” he said.
Diamond said as soon as he and his mother arrived, they jumped straight into the water to help the elderly residents, including Stephanie.
“We both just started knocking on doors to see who was there because we realised a lot of these people don’t have immediate family nearby and there were no emergency services coming because nobody could get through,” said Diamond.
Employed by an insurance company himself, Diamond saw water rising above the bonnet of Stephanie’s vehicle and believed it was ridiculous that AMI expected her to take a photo.
“It was her [Stephanie’s] car that actually added more stress to the rescue because water had gotten into the electrics and the alarm started blaring,” he said.
When he arrived at the residence, water was just over knee-deep, but by the time they left it was a nipple-height river with a strong current, he said.
Wayne Tippet, executive general manager for claims at AMI, State and NZI, told the Herald last week: “If our customer photographs the car, it can speed up the claim process, as we can then assess the claim digitally in real-time”.
“Any vehicles that have had water enter the interior are generally written off, due to impacts on safety systems and electrical components being compromised. For this particular event, we are finding that the majority of cars are being written off due to the scale of the water damage.”
Tippet said if customers were unable to take photos, their vehicles could be physically assessed by AMI once they’d been towed.
“Our team is working extremely hard to assess and process claims as quickly as possible. Currently, we are settling claims for around 200 cars a day, and we expect that to increase in the coming days,” he said.
However, AMI yesterday afternoon said that after reviewing Stephanie’s case it had agreed to settle her claim.
“Our thoughts are with Stephanie and the traumatic experience she had while escaping her flooded home.
“We have been in touch with Stephanie and apologised for the experience she had with us while having her claim approved.
“Following further review of her claim and how her vehicle was impacted by the flood, we have written her vehicle off and settled her claim.”
Diamond, along with eight others, saved about seven residents from the village during a 90-minute rescue mission.
“It basically felt like we were crossing through a river because the current was so strong to the point where every single person that stood still in the water was risking their lives,” said Diamond.
He recalled two elderly residents who were unable to walk being rescued from their homes. One was loaded into a recycling bin and the other in a wheelchair, before being lifted out by rescuers.
“I was exhausted after but I was just worried about the residents. We were able-bodied and there were people that needed help so it doesn’t really matter if I was tired or not,” he said.
A local who lived around the corner from Alma Rd took in all the elderly residents who were rescued and gave them dry clothes and a bed for the night.
“She would’ve housed just about every person that we helped out and she took them in without any question,” said Diamond.
He says the community’s efforts were all spur-of-the-moment and they did what was necessary.
The area previously flooded during a weather bomb in March last year.
“It’s a very dangerous area for flooding there and I actually don’t think the older people should be living there now that I’ve seen it with my own eyes,” said Diamond.
Stephanie said she knew early on that the steady rain would cause significant damage and first called Haumaru Housing about midday on that Friday.
“I said, ‘Honestly you’ve got to send somebody’ and all they sent over was a plumber who took one look and said, ‘This is dangerous, we can’t do anything’.”
A spokesperson for Haumaru Housing stressed that the safety and wellbeing of tenants was the top main priority, “and providing a safe and supportive environment for everyone who lives in our villages is of the utmost importance to us”.
“The flooding of six units at Alma Court – and of Alma Rd in general – was unprecedented, and we are seeking advice as regards the infrastructure of the area and the potential for any issues in the future. This assessment will inform our planning going forward.”
Since the flooding Haumaru Housing had provided alternative accommodation for all affected tenants, along with individual welfare checks and other assistance.
“The clean-up work has also now commenced and we have contractors working over the long weekend at the villages affected. We also continue to liaise closely with the other agencies that have been involved in the overall emergency response operation.”