Home Inspector Aids Fema, Sorts Through Katrina Damage

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

After spending two weeks working as a home inspector on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, an area devastated by Hurricane Katrina, Kal Patel returned to his home in Cincinnati on Oct. 6. and told his wife that he wanted to put family photos in a lock box.

"You never know," Patel said. "I don't want to lose all of our memories." As a volunteer home inspector, Patel worked under the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Patel's job was to assess damage to homes in areas like Gulfport, one of the cities hit hardest by Katrina. Patel said he wanted to go down there to help people rebuild their lives.

In Mississippi, Patel said he inspected houses or in some cases, what was left of houses and collected data on the amount of damaged that was sustained. Then he would report this data to FEMA, which would send a letter to the homeowner explaining what damages would be covered and reimbursed.

"When you're down there and can inspect 10 to 15 homes a day that makes a huge difference," he said. Patel Patel, 33, has his own home inspection business, 1st Inspection Services, in Cincinnati. He said that his business is making sure buildings and houses are safe before people or businesses purchase them.

Patel said he evaluates 15 to 20 major components, and it usually takes him two to three hours per house. Patel also teaches home safety inspection, and is a member of the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors.

Patel started the company in 2003, and franchised his business out to Columbus, Ohio and Charlotte, N.C. He is in talks for another franchise in Denver. Patel employs five people and he said he has inspected 800 homes this year.

Patel became a certified FEMA inspector in January 2005, at a convention in Orlando, Fla. He said that he received a call asking him to volunteer in the hurricane relief effort on Sept. 17. After being cleared by his doctor he broke his arm last year Patel decided to go. Patel said he was one of 1,000 FEMA inspectors in Mississippi.

However, there were some detours along the way there were no more rental cars available in Mobile, Ala. or Gulfport. Patel flew into Pensacola Fla., and drove to Gulfport.

Patel said his experience in Mississippi was "kind of scary," due to threats like poisonous snakes, which were in the area.

He added that people can take a situation like this for granted, because you can turn the news off and on and get away from the situation.

"When you're there, you see it 24/7," he said. "It really hits home." Patel said that many inspectors could not handle the environment and quit.

He said that some people broke down crying, and one day he saw four people quit in an hour.

But Patel also defended the recently maligned FEMA, who's chief, Michael Brown, resigned amid rising criticism of his agency's response to Hurricane Katrina.

"With what I saw, FEMA was in there doing what they needed," he said. "They're doing a hell of a job." According to FEMA, 89,487 home inspections were completed by FEMA inspectors in Mississippi, as of Oct. 6.

"Hurricane Katrina forced over 270,000 Gulf Coast families to flee to emergency shelters. In the past few weeks, 92 percent of them, over a quarter of a million people, have moved from shelters to some form of transitional housing," Vice Admiral Thad Allen, the principal federal official and federal coordinating officer for the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort, said in a statement.

Patel said that he went back home to see his wife, Lina, and his children, Dharma, 2, and Saiya, 1.

He said he would like to go back down to Mississippi, but the experience made him realize that he should enjoy quality time with his family and friends.

"No one can take that away from you," he said.

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