Photo by Lourdes Uy

John Nidua, a resident in Northeast Calgary, remembered it was a nice, sunny day. He was doing his house chores, and his family came to visit. They were all having a good time until it started to rain – hail. “We could hear something hitting the roof, it was pellet sized. Rain started to pick up and when we checked, the hail became marble sized and then became like a size of golf balls, some were as big as tennis balls,” John recalls.

On June 13, 2020, a massive hailstorm battered more than 70,000 houses and vehicles in Calgary. Communities in the Northeast were identified as the hardest hit areas in the city, where more than 10,000 Filipinos reside. After assessing the damages, the Insurance Bureau of Canada declared it as the fourth costliest natural disaster in Canada’s history—even costlier than the hailstorm experienced by the city in 2016—with an estimate of at least $1.2 billion worth of insured damages.

Baseball sized hail pounded the sidings of houses, shattered their windows, and battered vehicles which left hailstorm victims a tremendous amount of housework, not only for cleanup and rebuilding, but a tremendous work in getting a hold on their insurance agencies and dealing with what their insurance does not cover.

John needed to cover deductible fees of more than $2,000 for his house and $1,000 for his car. However, he was temporarily laid off from his job due to COVID-19 and his Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) couldn’t really cover the fees. John and a thousand other Filipino families living in Skyview Ranch, Redstone, Saddle Ridge and Taradale were left with the same hurdle.

Maribel Javier shared the same sentiments. “After it happened, I called my insurance right away and they were quick in processing my claims,” shares Maribel. “What made it difficult was I had to wait for almost two months for their response. On top of that, when I did get a response from them, I realized I needed to cover the deductible fee which was too much and I am on pension.” 

Maribel’s house was also severely damaged by the hailstorm, which left her with a traumatizing experience, even more traumatizing than the 2016 hailstorm. “This time, the situation is different, a lot of people lost their jobs. How are we going to repair our homes? Winter is coming and we are in the middle of a pandemic,” says Maribel.

It was this looming problem that prompted Maribel to join and support the Hailstorm Action Committee Community Campaign. The group, led by volunteers who are residents in the hardest hit areas in Northeast, calls on the federal and provincial governments for a disaster relief funding that could potentially help homeowners rebuild their homes as soon as possible. 

On July 22, 2020, members of the committee organized a convoy to Edmonton and held a demonstration on the steps of the Alberta Legislature. They are actively seeking assistance from the government in terms of declaring the hailstorm incident as a natural disaster for them to be able to access the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements, as well as giving residents a confirmation that their insurance premiums will not spike due to the hailstorm.

Action Committee Spokesperson Khalil Karbani underlined in a statement that “victims are under enourmous stress. As they cope with economic pain, the pandemic, and back-to-school worries, the premier dismisses us by telling us to talk to our insurance companies.”

On Aug 7, 2020, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi added voice to the cause and wrote a letter addressed to the Premier and Prime Minister, pleading for immediate relief through interest free loans, incentives to support constructions , and full review of the provincial Disaster Relief Program, as well as the federal Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements.

“Our cause will not only benefit affected communities living in the Northeast but everyone in Calgary. Who knows when this will happen again,” underlines Maribel. “Most of the affected communities were composed of families of color, newcomers, and immigrants. We feel like our voice is not being heard because of a subtle racism in the process. It is being felt in the community.”

Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney disclosed that they are working and coordinating closely with the Insurance Bureau of Canada in making sure that insurance companies honor their commitment to their clients and treat them with dignity and respect. “We are aware that the Northeast community is being discriminated and are feeling left out. I am personally working on this initiative to help residents get back on their feet,” says Minister Sawhney.

“We are happy to note that we are working closely with other organizations and community leaders in making sure that we are checking on our people, listening to their needs, and helping them in any way we can to alleviate their stress,” adds Minister Sawhney. “It is very important that we always remain hopeful because tough times don’t last but tough people do.”

Minister Sawhney also said that more information regarding the government’s actions related to the hailstorm disaster will be disclosed in the coming weeks.

Sources: National House Survey

 

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