Hanna and Rob Patterson and their 4-month-old daughter were living a good Lowcountry life in their comfortable single-family home on the north end of Hilton Head Island.
She was a special education assistant at Hilton Head Middle School, he was anchored in Kroger management, and the baby was happy at home and at daycare. Life was good.
Hurricane Matthew changed their perspective. Three massive trees struck their home with storm force – one crushed the roof nearly in half, and the other two landed menacingly to the left and the right.
Rooms were demolished, walls cracked, 11 holes poked through the roof and five punctured through the ceiling inside, portions of the ceiling separated from the walls and flooding seeped inside.
“One of the fire marshals came through our home and condemned it pretty quickly,” Hanna Patterson related. “We were in a state of shock.”
As bad as circumstances were, it could have been worse. They weren’t home when calamity struck. She and her infant had evacuated on Oct. 4 to stay with in-laws in Georgia. Her husband fled the island but stayed closer to home, because he was a first-responder for Kroger and was back on Hilton Head on Oct. 8 providing emergency assistance.
A neighbor had taken a picture of their home and it ended up in front of Patterson’s disbelieving eyes. Besides the structural damage, she spotted a water line on the side of the house: “Oh, this is not good at all,” she remembered thinking. “My first reaction was, there’s no way we’re going to be able to live there.”
Before returning to the island eight days later, Hanna spent hours on the phone with the insurance company, banks, the utility company, family and friends.
A reality check distorted the Pattersons’ surreal situation. Through a local insurance broker, they had homeowner’s and flood insurance with two different insurers. Even though their insurance would cover all damage from the ground up, a clause in their homeowner’s insurance allowed the insurer to raise the deductible to 5 percent of the value of the home, from $1,000 to $12,600 because the hurricane had a “name,” she said. “The deductible wasn’t feasible, honestly, for our little family,” Patterson said.
“The homeowner’s insurance really made me angry,” she confessed. “It’s been frustrating.”
She said she called the insurer eight times without a response. On the ninth attempt she connected with a real person and was told by the customer service rep that she did not listen to the eight voice mails because she thought it was probably regarding a previous issue.
“She was just ignoring me,” Patterson said.
When an appointment with a legitimate claims adjustor finally was made, a scammer who knew her name and case circumstances showed up on the right date, but at the wrong time.
His voice didn’t sound like the adjustor’s voice she knew from earlier conversations, and she was immediately suspicious. Her instincts were right.
Even though Patterson has trouble sleeping these days, with all the anxiety and uncertainty, she feels blessed because a family friend opened his vacation condo home for the family to live in during the transition. Countless friends, family and others have cooked meals, donated goods and money.
At press time, the “Hurricane Help” GoFundMe page Patterson set up had received donations of $10,575 toward the $12,600 deductible.
“We have received a lot of charity; we’ve been extremely grateful,” she said. “Our new normal will be very different than our previous normal was.”
The Pattersons are now awaiting answers. They hope the insurance company will determine their home a “total loss” and they will be compensated so they can start over in a new home.
Patterson said she tries to stay optimistic. But, she said, “We’re preparing ourselves for the worst.”
Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.