Fairfax couple Jennifer and Timothy Skinner, veterans of tropical typhoons, didn’t expect Hurricane Isabel to take out their new back deck and half of their garage.
Insurance companies say they are receiving thousands of claims like the Skinners’ this week as Washington-area residents get their power back and inspect the damage.
“We didn’t think the winds were strong enough, but once our backyard trees started falling, we saw the magnitude of the problem,” Mrs. Skinner said Wednesday inside her home, holding her 12-day-old son, Ryan.
Behind her, several 70-foot trees were scattered in the back yard, while her 2-month-old deck was in an industrial-sized trash container in front of the house.
Catastrophe claims adjuster James Christian, who works for Travelers Property Casualty Corp., said he has written claims for similar damages for clients in the Northern Virginia area since Friday. He would not say how many claims he has written.
“This ground was so dry from the drought that it weakened the tree roots,” Mr. Christian said at the Skinner home. “Then the ground was saturated continually for the past year, so it didn’t take much wind to push the trees over.”
Mr. Christian, who handles an average of four claims daily, said he expects to be in the Washington area for the next year.
“We stay here until the job is finished and that could be a year because of the volume we have now,” and the claims are expected to trickle in for the next few months, he said.
Judy OBrien, claims-services vice president for the Southern region, would not estimate how many claims have been filed at Travelers, but said 69 other catastrophe adjusters were flown into the Mid-Atlantic area before the storm to handle “a steady stream of claims.”
Some insurers estimate the total cost to them could be less than $1 billion, significantly less than the $4 billion bill forecasted before Isabel raged into North Carolina last week.
Damages caused by flooding are not covered under regular home insurance.
The loss may only be $500 million and far less than hurricanes in recent years, according to Risk Management Solutions, a Newark, Calif., company that analyzes catastrophes for insurers.
Other insurance companies expect the total damage claims to total well into the thousands of dollars.
Allstate Insurance Co., a Northbrook, Ill., insurer, has brought more than 500 specialists to the Mid-Atlantic region to help with the 25,000 claims it has received since Friday.
“Surprisingly we were busiest the Friday, Saturday and Sunday after the storm, even though many people were without power,” said Joe McCormick, Mid-Atlantic spokes-man.
Allstate agents working out of satellite offices have been slowed somewhat by flooding and torrential rainstorms this week in Richmond and the Hampton Roads areas.
“But we’re managing the workload and focusing right now on the heavily damaged houses,” Mr. McCormick said.
Homeowners filing less-severe damage like missing siding and shingles have an average wait of four days from the time their claim was filed, he added.
While thousands of Washington-area residents were without power Monday, State Farm Insurance agents were inundated with calls from claimants, said Mid-Atlantic spokesman Mike Adams.
“We had some claims come in on Saturday and Sunday, but Monday at 9 a.m. seemed to be the magic time,” Mr. Adams said.
The Bloomington, Ill., home- and car-insurance company has received more than 10,000 homeowner claims from Maryland residents and 350 from the District, he said. Mr. Adams did not have estimates for Northern Virginia.
The company also has handled 2,000 auto claims in Maryland and 100 in Washington.
The insurance company brought in 100 claims representatives from other offices to assist in the heavy workload. Mr. Adams said he expected calls to slow by the end of the week.
Geico brought in 50 more agents from other regional offices to handle the 4,922 auto claims that have been processed in the past week. Half of those claims are from Virginia, while 40 percent are from Maryland and the remaining 10 percent from North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York, said spokeswoman Christine Tasher.
The car-insurance company also is receiving collision claims from accidents that occurred at intersections in the affected areas that are still without power.