LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) — One Lake Charles woman credits the power of social media in getting one step closer to having her hurricane-damaged home repaired after weeks of roadblocks with her insurance claim.
Tara Parks recently posted several videos on the social media app TikTok. She told more than 80,000 followers about her insurance company’s refusal to acknowledge the extent of damages Hurricane Laura caused to her home.
“Knowing I had a platform, I thought it was worth a shot,” Parks, 33, said Tuesday.
One video has nearly 600,000 views. Parks’ followers eventually shared her TikTok videos on the insurance companies’ Facebook pages.
“Strangers were sharing it,” she said. “The fact that so many people who aren’t from Louisiana care when it’s not affecting them, I was very grateful for that. It really got the word out.”
Less than a week after the videos were posted, Parks said the adjusting firm called her Monday, asking what could be done to make her home liveable again.
Parks purchased her first home May 1, 2020, and was living there with her four children and her fiance, Joseph. Hurricane Laura struck Southwest Louisiana Aug. 27 as a powerful Category 4 storm, causing widespread damage throughout the region. Parks said a tree fell onto her home, damaging parts of the roof structure. Since the storm, her family has been living in a rent home in Sulphur.
“It’s cramped,” she said. “It’s very stressful.”
Parks said her insurance company had a local restoration company assess the home two weeks after Laura hit. The report indicated roof damage that caused water intrusion in all of the walls. Gutting the home and doing water mitigation work would cost more than $41,000. Parks said her insurance company claimed the assessment was bogus.
“The desk adjuster said, ‘We’re not going to accept that,’ ” she said.
Parks said her contractor also found “clear signs” of water in the walls that had come in through the damaged roof.
The insurance company’s initial payouts to Parks, totaling just over $28,000, were supposed to pay for other repairs, such as replacing a covered back porch and damaged shed, along with a new fence. Instead, it was spent on gutting the home and structural repairs. That didn’t leave any money for a new roof, she said.
Four months after Laura hit, Parks said the insurance company hired its own engineering firm to get a second opinion on the damage assessment.
“We were thinking the engineer would show what we already knew,” Parks said of the damage.
Conditions had changed in the months since Laura’s landfall. The home’s air conditioner was now running. Drier, cooler weather would affect a second assessment of water damage.
Parks was stunned when the engineer’s report said gutting the home wasn’t warranted and claimed the home’s framing and walls were in good shape. Based on those findings, the insurance company offered a $5,622 payout for Laura, and a $2,411 payout for Hurricane Delta, a Category 2 storm that hit Southwest Louisiana Oct. 9.
“This is not going to replace my walls or floors,” Parks said. “Obviously, I was very upset.”
Parks’ frustration led her to post the videos on TikTok and shed light on the challenges Southwest Louisiana residents are facing with their insurance claims.
“That’s the case for a lot of people,” she said.
Parks already knew how many people could be reached through her social media. One TikTok video she posted in August was viewed more than 2 million times.
“I’m fortunate to have a social platform, but what about everyone who doesn’t,” she asked.
Parks said she had two attorneys on standby in case the insurance company didn’t respond.
“That’s what they push people to,” she said. “You either have to accept what they give you or go through the process of suing. It shouldn’t be that way.”
She advised residents who are dealing with the same issues to be resilient, whether through sharing their stories on social media or talking to an attorney.
“You’re going to get to a point where you can’t fight anymore and you accept what the insurance company thinks you’re going to deserve,” Parks said. “Keep fighting and keep pressing. Social media is taking a big place in this whole ordeal.”