The last few weeks the world has turned its attention to the Puna lava flow on the big island of Hawai’i. Two weeks ago I visited this subject as the ‘a’a (creeping) lava neared the town of Pahoa and the questions of whether the damages would be covered under a fire claim or an earth movement policy began to emerge. This week, the lava has reached Pahoa and residents are ordered to evacuate. As of October 27, 2014, the lava has reached within 100 feet of the first home of Pahoa in its path towards the ocean. The photos of the devastation are dramatic and since there has been a moratorium on raising policy limits or even purchasing earth movement policies for at least a month, the citizens of Pahoa will find that their insurance policies have severe limitations on recovery. Although many homes will burn due to the excessive heat that ensues before lava actually reaches it, the alarming new claim hitting the news is that for those who have already evacuated, claims of looting are emerging. These theft claims would appear to be, at first blush, a claim that is separate and apart from that of fire or land movement of the lava itself.
Hawaiian governmental authorities are granting residents the right to remain at their properties with no mandatory evacuations until such time that safety of lives comes to play. This allows residents to safely document their losses and photograph their properties for insurance purposes during the devastation and to hopefully have closure by viewing the loss of their homes from the lava. The issue of looting has now arisen as looters have been photographed and videotaped coming out of homes already evacuated. As the time for mandatory evacuation nears, it is no doubt that homeowners are at the mercy of the lava flow and whatever direction the flow meanders largely impacts which homes actually suffer the losses.
It’s a time for a community to rally together and help each other document, by photograph or video, their homes, possessions, and losses from looters so their insurance claims may be properly categorized, claimed, and paid – allowing the rebuilding of lives and homes.