Home » News » COUNTING LOSSES AND BLESSINGS: Alfa’s Poultry Growers See Silver Lining In Face Of Storm

COUNTING LOSSES AND BLESSINGS: Alfa’s Poultry Growers See Silver Lining In Face Of Storm

COUNTING LOSSES AND BLESSINGS: Alfa’s Poultry Growers See Silver Lining In Face Of Storm
October 21, 2008 |

Kenneth and Karen Gilbert weren’t terribly concerned when Kenneth’s dad called at 5 o’clock that February morning to warn them of bad weather. Still, they pulled themselves out of bed, put on a pot of coffee and puttered around in the kitchen for a while before heading to the basement.That’s when they turned on the TV to learn a tornado was bearing down on their small Jackson County community of Rosalie — a serious enough warning that Karen’s sister, brother-in-law and young nephew from just down the road also sought refuge in their basement.Just minutes later, an F4 tornado tore through their home, crushed their vehicles, destroyed their four layer houses and, like everything else, turned their lives upside down. “Everything was gone in 10 seconds,” Kenneth recalls now. “House, cars, farm — I’d lost everything in 10 seconds.”Months later, in Morgan County, poultry grower Mark Byrd’s family experienced a tragedy of another sort when three gas company workers were severely injured — one fatally — in a fiery propane explosion that left one of their broiler houses in a charred, smoldering heap of twisted metal. “Nobody did anything wrong,” Byrd would say months later. “It was just a freak accident.”Two poultry growers, two tragedies and two families counting their losses and their blessings — grateful more people weren’t killed, and thankful they had Alfa Insurance.”Alfa was excellent — I’ve known that for years,” said Mark Byrd, adding that Alfa claims adjuster Dennis Brothers was at the farm the very next morning after the May 20 explosion. “It happened at 4 in the afternoon on a Tuesday, and Dennis was out here the next morning. By Thursday morning, he was on the phone to tell us a check was in the mail. He actually got a bid on the house, a bid on equipment, a bid on cleanup — this is the Alfa adjuster who did this for us! We didn’t have to do anything.”Likewise, the Gilberts didn’t have to wait long. By 10 a.m. the next day, Alfa Insurance adjuster Robert Tanner was tallying their losses — $1.3 million worth — while the Gilberts counted their blessings. “It could’ve been worse. It could’ve been a lot worse. We could’ve lost a son,” Kenneth said, noting that his son Brett had already left for work when the Feb. 6 twister demolished the garage apartment where he lived. A neighbor wasn’t as fortunate — her body was found about 100 yards behind the ruins of the Gilberts’ home.That same morning, Tanner handed the Gilberts a $25,000 check, an advance on their contents coverage. “He said, ‘Take this — you’ve got to get a place to stay and you’ve got to get clothes. You just take this and live off of it until you can figure out what’s happened,'” said Kenneth. “He said, ‘You’re covered. Don’t worry about anything.'”For that, Kenneth says, he owes Shane Wooten, his persistent Alfa agent, a steak dinner. “Shane had been on me to get more insurance coverage,” Kenneth said. “He said, ‘You don’t have enough coverage to replace it if something happens to your farm.’ I said, ‘I know it, but I can’t afford it.’ About a month later, he’d come back. Another month later, he’d come back. Finally, I said, ‘OK, I’ll do it.’ So I upped my coverage on my chicken houses, upped my coverage on our dwelling house, my contents, everything. If I hadn’t done that, I’d have been ruined, and that wouldn’t have been Alfa’s fault — it would’ve been my fault. It was good to know that somebody was looking out for you. They’ve been good. Real good.”That’s how things should be, said Rex Seabrook, Alfa Insurance’s manager of farm underwriting. “It’s a people business, and the people should come first,” said Seabrook, whose stepmother was snatched from her bed and pinned beneath a heavy chest of drawers when his childhood home in Lawrence County was destroyed by a twister the same evening the tornado struck the Gilberts’ farm. “To some, that may be just a policy number. But that was my stepmother, my childhood home, my memories. I believe God just built a cocoon around my stepmother and protected her because He didn’t want my dad to have to bury another wife.”Seabrook says that despite paying out more than $4 million in poultry house claims during 2007 (and almost $100 million in poultry house claims over the last 10 years), he says Alfa bears the losses “as a service to our farmers.””It is important our farmers have a reliable company to insure their assets,” said Seabrook, noting that Alfa has insured poultry growers since its founding in 1946 by the Alabama Farmers Federation. “We will be here in their time of need.”Guy Hall, director of the Federation’s poultry division and a former poultry adjuster, said a company’s commitment to serve is of utmost importance. He remembers a time in the early to mid-1990s when an insurance company began offering deep discounts on poultry house coverage. Then, along came Hurricane Opal and the heavy damages sent the upstart company reeling. The company paid its claims, but then packed its bags and left the state, leaving scores of poultry farmers without protection.”A poultry producer needs to look at several things when he’s looking to insure his farm,” said Hall. “You should look closely at the claims history of the company, the availability of the agent to answer questions about the policy and a company’s ability to stay in the market.” “Choose an insurer you can count on when a loss occurs,” added Seabrook. “Choose one that you know has a reputation for outstanding service. Time will be the ultimate test of those who enter the poultry house insurance marketplace.” As further evidence of a good company, Seabrook points to the tragedy at Mark and Sandy Byrds’ Danville farm where something went horribly wrong as the workers transferred the propane from one tank into a replacement tank. The Byrds’ home shook as a fiery explosion sent flames 30 to 40 feet into the sky. Racing back to their poultry houses, the Byrds and their two sons, Perry and Rodney, saw one of their poultry houses and the gas company’s boom truck engulfed in flames. “It looked like a torch shooting against the chicken house,” said Sandy. “The fire was just hitting the chicken house and shooting up. We’d just got out of the truck when we came upon one of the men. We didn’t know where the other two were, but we knew there had been three down there. About 5 minutes later, we saw the other two.”Helping the severely burned workers to the porch of their rental house next door, the Byrds comforted the men until paramedics arrived.”The state investigator said all the rules were being followed,” said Mark. “It was just a freak accident.”Within 90 days, the Byrds were back in business in their newly built poultry house. “I had no doubt the adjuster would be out the next day,” said Mark, “but to have the money in two days? That was just unreal to me.”The Gilberts are back in business, too. Although only three of the four layer houses were flattened, the fourth was structurally unsafe and was replaced as well. On June 7, Pilgrim’s Pride delivered 44,000 layers to the Gilberts’ four new houses.A beautiful new, 5,300-square-foot home now sits where the Gilberts’ old 1970s-era three-bedroom brick home once sat. “Karen says she had 24 hours to pick out a plan,” said Kenneth. “That’s basically it. I went to Lowe’s and bought some plan books and I said, ‘Here, you’ve got 24 hours. We’ve got to get on this.’ And she did! She picked one out, and I liked it. But even if we never got a nice home built back or not, we’d still be thankful because we could’ve lost a son. … If somebody told me I’d have to go through that storm, but I’d get a nice house out of it, I’d say, ‘No thanks!’ I wouldn’t go through that again.”After the tornado, I had so many things to do,” he added. “We had to find a place to live. We had to build our house. We had to rebuild our farm. And it would’ve been a lot more confusing if I’d had my auto insurance with somebody, my home insurance with somebody else and my farm insurance with somebody else. Oh yeah, having all my insurance eggs in one basket was good. That was a definite plus.”

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