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Disaster Hits Close To Home For Asset Location Expert

There had been false alarms before in Saint Bernard Parish, a community rich in heritage, adjacent to the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. By the time Katrina came along it had become almost routine. So on August 28, 2005 when a mandatory evacuation was ordered, Charles and Rosena Seruntine boarded up three buildings, taking only the clothes on their back. They would be back in a few days after the storm passed, just as they had done before. When they drove away in two cars sporting four children and three dogs, little did they know that their world as they knew it would be forever changed.

FEMA would not allow the Seruntines to return for over three weeks. Charles indicated in an interview to KATC-TV that, "We've been in three states, in five different hotels." Desperate for information, FEMA would only tell the Seruntines that there was “a lot of water.”

The Seruntine family home in Arabi, Louisiana was 2,800 square feet of luxury, evidence of Charles’ success in the asset location business. Charles was 21 when he began work in negotiations at a national debt recovery firm. He rose rapidly in the ranks to the legal division where he eventually headed up the agency’s asset investigation department. It was only natural that eight years ago he would start his own firm. First Guarantee Associates, LLC boasts an impressive client list, servicing some of the most successful collection specialists, attorneys and governmental entities.

When FEMA finally allowed the Seruntines to return, they would enter the boarded-up residence through a back door which had been kicked in by rescue teams. The receding waters had confirmed their worst fears: the family home was a total loss. Katrina would claim their daughter’s home, too and lift the building which housed First Guarantee Associates off its foundation. “We are starting over. We are back where we were when we first got married,” explains Seruntine.

Historically, the floodwaters of the Mississippi River have played an integral role in the destiny of Saint Bernard Parish. It was the floodwaters which left behind a rich soil, creating a thriving agricultural industry. It was those floodwaters, too, which played a part in the brewing tension with its celebrity neighbor. Tension dating back to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, when in the face of a monster storm, engineers bowed to local pressure by diverting floodwaters into Saint Bernard to save New Orleans. That decision destroyed a prosperous community and fueled resentment toward the Big Easy which continues to smolder to this day.

Katrina has done little to quell this bad blood, for once again Saint Bernard has taken a punishing blow. And once again it has taken a back seat to its popular neighbor. One of the hardest hit parishes, this bustling community of 67,000 people was erased overnight by Katrina. There is no real estate inventory; every building in Saint Bernard Parish was destroyed. This is where the tragedy at St. Rita’s nursing home took place. Yet much of the media attention has been focused on the French Quarter, argue Saint Bernard residents, noting much of the resources have been diverted to their sexy sister while they sit in obscurity like a forgotten stepchild. FEMA has become a four-letter word in this parish.

Today Saint Bernard Parish is an eerie sight. In an attempt to describe his community, Seruntine asks, “Have you ever seen ‘The Day After Tomorrow’?”

Out of the 67,000 residents in the parish, all but 203 fled the storm. 127 bodies have since been recovered. Although there were a handful of survivors, the balance are reported as ‘missing’. St. Bernard’s 25,000 homes were declared a ‘total loss’. With neither residents nor businesses, the parish government lost its tax base overnight. It will take at least five years to rebuild the community.

The nightmare for the Seruntines continually evolves, but never ends. Because so many homes were destroyed, available housing has soared 40-60%. But investment real estate Seruntine owns in the flood area has dropped. His investment lots prior to Katrina were selling for $80,000. Investors are now offering him $5,000. In November 2005 Seruntine bought a smaller home at twice the cost of his former residence. He’s since discovered it’s infested with termites.

Largely ineligible for government assistance, the help for Charles Seruntine would be grass roots. His 22 employees kept the business together. Members of the collection community rallied to his support. Sometimes that support would come by way of a sympathetic phone call, a check in the mail or a Wal-Mart gift card.

Seruntine makes no effort to hide his anger, “If Katrina was a woman, I would have shot her in the head a hundred times.” He is angry at the government engineers for failing to shore up the levees. He is angry at the insurance companies for denying his claims. He is angry too at FEMA and the media for their inattention to his parish’s plight. But most of all he regrets losing everything accumulated over two decades, especially family photos and keepsakes which were washed into the canal. “How do you replace 20 years of Disney World snowglobes?” he asks.

Seruntine’s business, conducted largely by email, is up and running. He continues his fight with the insurance companies and the federal government. His legal battles are expected to take 10 years to resolve. The scars of Katrina, however, will never fade.

Ramona Featherby is a judgment collection specialist in San Diego and past president of CAJP.

This post first appeared on Dubai Community, please read the originial post: here

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Disaster Hits Close To Home For Asset Location Expert


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