Life and health producers in the Gulf states report the devastating blow from Hurricane Katrina has put them out of business indefinitely. Because many of them have been left homeless, too, some say putting a ruined office back together is the last item on their agenda right now.
“No one has moved into a work mode yet,” says Diane Boyle, executive vice president of the Association of Health Insurance Advisors, Falls Church, Va. “They’re not focusing on rebuilding their businesses; they’re looking at where they are going to stay.”
Those few who could be reached by a reporter or who had been in touch with their trade associations say they are determined to be back in action professionally but can’t say when that might be.
At first, Jennifer Toups, marketing director for Business Insurance Group, a small agency just outside New Orleans, thought it would be a couple of weeks before she could get back to her home.
“Then as the disaster unfolded, you begin to realize it could be months or even a year,” says Toups, a member of the board of directors of the New Orleans chapter of the National Association of Health Underwriters.
“While I don’t believe my home in uptown New Orleans was flooded, the looting definitely concerns me,” Toups says. “Not only that, there is not even an estimation of when New Orleans residents will be able to return to get their clothes and other items. And I’m the lucky one. The owner of my agency lost his house and the three cars they left in the driveway when the 17th Street Canal levee broke. Their house sits completely under water along with everything in it.”
The day before the hurricane arrived, Toups attended a meeting of the board of her NAHU chapter to discuss how to build membership in their group, Toups recalls. Two days later, the restaurant where they met was under 15 feet of water. Toups and her family fled to Memphis.
Clients, too, are scattered and out of touch, agents say.
“All our clients are just in a state of motion,” says John Meyer, an independent agent in Metairie, La., who is affiliated with Raymond James & Associates. “Until we get telephone service, there’s not a lot we can do.”
Meyer worked on the 19th floor of an office building in Metairie with four other producing agents and three support staff, all of whom are now scattered in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Meyer has moved in with his son in Fort Worth, Texas, and has no idea what happened to his home.
He and the other agents in his office plan to work out of a satellite office in Houma, La., where a single permanent staff member is handling their calls. It will take weeks or months before power, phones and other services are restored to the New Orleans area, he says.
Meyer intends to be back in business as soon as he can get back in his offices. But, he notes, “I don’t know when we can get back. No one can reach me by cell phone, though I can call out. I can read my e-mail from Raymond James and can access a few clients, but 80% of my clients are in the New Orleans area.
“This is a catastrophe of immense proportions, the big one everyone talked about but never dreamed was around the corner,” he says.
Some trade groups have been trying to help displaced members get in touch with one another.
With cell phone and e-mail service spotty in many areas in the Gulf states, the Million Dollar Round Table set up a Web site allowing dislocated agents to contact co-workers and colleagues. It also provides members with a means of requesting aid or donating funds to hurricane relief organizations.
Janet Trautwein, executive vice president of NAHU, Arlington, Va., says the association recently e-mailed its members in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana urging them to get in touch with the association.
“The last thing some of them are thinking about right now is hooking up to a computer,” Trautwein acknowledges. “But some are still in touch. Some state chapters are holding fund-raisers and donating funds to the Red Cross. Some members in Dallas are seeking to get in touch with members in the New Orleans area. And we are continuing to evaluate what we can do to be helpful.”
Meanwhile, Toups has set up the Web site for the New Orleans chapter of NAHU to keep a running tab of members who have reported in. As of press time, the site listed 10 members.
Among them is Linda Ray, NOAHU’s past president, who also posted this message: “We will band together! We will come back!”
‘No one has moved into a work mode yet. They’re not focusing on rebuilding their businesses; they’re looking at where they are going to stay’