- The Washington Times - Friday, September 19, 2003

Homeowners swamped insurance companies with claims from fallen trees, flooding and high winds yesterday.

Several companies dispatched representatives yesterday to get preliminary details on areas affected by Hurricane Isabel’s wrath, but most plan to start more detailed assessments today.

Northbrook, Ill., insurer Allstate Insurance Co. sent almost 300 field agents to North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland after the Category 2 storm passed the Washington area yesterday morning.

Agents drove around more-damaged coastal areas in North Carolina and Virginia, scouting out customers with flooded homes and missing roofs.

The insurer had received about 3,000 claims by yesterday afternoon, which Joe McCormick, spokesman for the Mid-Atlantic region, said was just a small percentage of what they expected to come.

“It’s too early to know what the extent of claims will be because so many people that were hit still don’t have power” and cannot call in to report damages, he said. The storm knocked out power for 4.5 million people.

Mr. McCormick said more claims will pour in by next week.

“Judging by the claims we have now, we are preparing for handling thousands more,” he said.

Hartford, Conn.-based insurer Travelers Property Casualty Corp. deployed mobile offices in recreational vehicle and 230 additional adjusters to Raleigh, N.C., Richmond, Virginia Beach and Chantilly to assist with the workload. An additional 100 employees are on standby.

“We’re starting to see claims activity now, but it will get heavier through the weekend and probably will be especially high on Monday, when people get back online,” said Judy O’Brien, claims-services vice president for the Southern region.

Ms. O’Brien said the company is bracing for thousands of claims to be filed in the next few weeks. “This is a different kind of hurricane in the sense that it affected a larger number of people on a wider region,” she said.

Hurricane Isabel had weakened from a Category 5 to a Category 2 storm when it hit the North Carolina coast, but was still 700 miles wide with wind gusts of 90 miles per hour.

Geico received 850 damaged-car claims from Virginia and 85 from North Carolina so far, said spokeswoman Christine Tasher.

“We expected them to come in quicker, but people may be having a hard time contacting us,” she said.

Agents with State Farm Insurance, a Bloomington, Ill.-based car and home insurer, were beginning to report damages in the Washington area yesterday, but it will be several days before claims can be processed, said Rick Adams, Mid-Atlantic spokesman.

“The hurricane didn’t quite have the punch we thought it would, but it did impact a lot of homes,” Mr. Adams said.

Most of the damage in the Washington area included flooding, trees on roads and houses, missing siding, and wind damage, he said.

Some insurers estimate the total cost to them could be less than $1 billion, significantly less than the $4 billion bill forecast earlier this week.

The loss may only be $500 million and far less than hurricanes in recent years, according to Risk Management Solutions.

Hurricane Floyd in 1999 caused $2.1 billion worth of insured damage, Hurricane Hugo in 1989 was $6 billion and Hurricane Andrew in 1992 was almost $20 billion, all adjusted to 2002 dollars, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Andrew was the costliest storm in history, with $26.5 billion in total damage.

SalvageSale Inc., a Houston salvage buyer and seller for insurance companies and self-insured businesses, sent out about 30 workers to assess interior damage in commercial buildings in North Carolina and Virginia.

“It’s slow going right now because there are a lot of flooded roads and downed trees that are preventing our reps from getting to some sites,” said Tom DiSarlo, services vice president.

In previous hurricanes, interior claims have ranged from $5,000 to $50 million, Mr. DiSarlo said, adding the average claim in similar catastrophes has been $100,000.

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