Consumer eViews

Volume 2, Number 36.5, September 9, 2005  


Last week I traveled to Mississippi's Gulf Coast to meet with Florida’s law enforcement officers who are assisting in recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina. 

Although the media focus has been on New Orleans, the damage is equally severe in Mississippi.  The destruction on the Gulf Coast is comparable to the damage we saw in South Florida after Hurricane Andrew.  As Florida's state fire marshal and insurance commissioner in 1992 when Andrew struck, I will never forget the destruction I witnessed.  While Andrew’s fury was 30 miles wide, Katrina’s assault covered an area over 100 miles wide and left it destroyed. 

I met with our Division of State Fire Marshal officers and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission personnel in Diamondhead, Miss., at a yacht-club-turned-meeting place. Surrounding the former yacht club, there had been hundreds of condominium apartments on cement pilings. Now the only structures remaining are the cement pilings. Every single condo was blown away, and the high water mark was at least 35-feet up in the surrounding trees. Nothing man-made remained intact. 

In Biloxi Beach, Florida officers from the Office of Agriculture Law Enforcement, Division of Forestry, Division of State Fire Marshal and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are living in the shadow of the demolished Mississippi Coast Coliseum. Firefighters from Volusia, Hillsborough, and Palm Beach County are bunking with them. For those of you who have seen the damage on television, their camp is about 500 yards from where the Grand Casino washed ashore about a half mile from its original location. I was impressed and humbled to see our officers working 12-14 hour shifts assisting with search and rescue efforts and law enforcement duties. 

As a Floridian, I was proud to see the support our law enforcement communities have been giving to the people of Mississippi. Since Andrew, Florida has been preparing for disasters like this, and we have had six storms in 14 months to test those plans and put them to use. The expertise our first responders are now offering has been crucial in helping restore order to the community and ensuring that food, water, and ice are distributed quickly to those in need. 

As we traveled to Biloxi, we passed a strip shopping center with nothing left but a Waffle House sign.  We saw whole neighborhoods that had been reduced to concrete slabs with dirty swimming pools behind them.  And Highway 90 across the Bay looked like a domino set that someone knocked over - each of the road supports were leaning to one side with no road on top.  It is going to be a massive undertaking to get this area rebuilt. 

Our Forward State Law Enforcement Mutual Aid Command Post (MAC) sits north of Biloxi.  From this location Florida’s law enforcement efforts on the ground are being coordinated.  All of our Florida officers - FDLE, FHP, DOT, DEP, Division of State Fire Marshal, Division of Insurance Fraud, county sheriff’s offices, and others are working as a group of hard-working and dedicated people with a purpose.  They are identifying problems, creating solutions, and implementing them on the spot. This leadership and generous giving represents Florida's best.

As State Fire Marshal, I know the importance of being prepared for catastrophes.  We personally know the damage these storms can cause, and we have planned, practiced and put aside resources to make sure we can respond quickly and effectively. 

Please join me in thanking Florida’s law enforcement and firefighter community for the professionalism, leadership, and compassion they are showing in helping our neighbors in this time of need.  

It was an honor and a privilege to see them in action.

                     -- Tom Gallagher


Many storm victims from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama have relocated to Florida in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  To help start the recovery process, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher said specialists with the Department of Financial Services are helping provide information and assistance to storm victims with questions on insurance.

“Thousands of our fellow Americans fled to Florida for safety from the storm, and are unable to return to their homes,” said Gallagher.  “Many don’t know where to turn for help with insurance, including how to obtain money for temporary living expenses.   Our neighboring states were here for us in the aftermath of four catastrophic storms last year, and we want to return the favor and help out in any we can.”

Gallagher has already deployed more than 40 law enforcement personnel from t
he department’s Division of Insurance Fraud and Division of State Fire Marshal to assist in search and rescue efforts in Mississippi. 

Evacuees are being encouraged to contact the department’s toll-free Consumer Helpline at 1-800-22-STORM to get answers and guidance on insurance questions. 

Gallagher also encouraged storm victims to contact their insurance companies to tap into funds for additional living expenses covered under their homeowners’ policies and to discuss filing claims.  He urged evacuees to keep all receipts during the recovery period.

Other helpful information includes:

Immediate Disaster Assistance from the American Red Cross
If you have immediate emergency needs for food, clothing, shelter, or medical care contact one of the local offices of the American Red Cross. You can visit a local office or call their toll-free number at 1-866-438-4636.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
You may qualify for assistance from the federal government. You can apply by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (800-621-3362). The information you will need includes the street address of your damaged property, the mailing address and a telephone number where you can be reached, your social security number, your household’s gross income, and that insurance coverage you have, including flood insurance.

Insurance Company Toll-Free Catastrophe Hot Lines
Catastrophe Hot Lines for insurance companies can be obtained by calling the Department of Financial Services at 1-800-22-STORM.

State Government Insurance Help Lines
Alabama Department of Insurance Consumer Help Line
334-241-4141 (outside Alabama)

Louisiana Department of Insurance Consumer Help Line
225-342-5900 (outside Louisiana)

Mississippi Department of Insurance Consumer Help Line
800- 562-2957
601-359-2453 (outside Mississippi)

National and State Information on Financial Institutions 
Louisiana Office of Financial Institutions
In-State    888-525-9414
Banking    866-783-5530
Securities  866-783-5469

Mississippi Department of Banking
In-state    601-359-1031
Toll-Free  800-844-2499 

Alabama Department of Banking

Federal Agencies

Banks – Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) –  -  877-275-3342.

Savings Institutions – Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) – – 800-842-6929

National Banks – Office of Comptroller of Currency (OCC) – – 800-613-6743

Credit Unions – National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) – or -- 800-827-6282


Tom Gallagher is encouraging financial institutions, check cashers and other financial service companies throughout Florida to reach out and help the thousands of Hurricane Katrina victims who have evacuated to Florida by: 

  • Cashing checks issued by official aid agencies – Red Cross, Salvation Army, FEMA, and any other governmental or nationally recognized non–profit agencies offering support to hurricane evacuees with proper ID.

  • Waiving ATM, cash advance and check-cashing fees for evacuees, even if they are not accountholders.

  • Helping evacuees contact their financial institution or financial services company in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Don Saxon, Commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation, has also issued an Emergency General Order, authorizing Florida state-chartered credit unions to provide assistance to other credit unions and offer financial services, except extending membership, making loans and opening deposit accounts, to non-members as necessary to assist any person adversely impacted by Hurricanes Katrina or Dennis.

Consumer Services HelpLine
(800) 342-2762.