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Tally of Isabel's Destruction Could Take a Week, Insurance Officials Say

By Cheryl Johnston
Capital News Service
Friday, Sept. 19, 2003

WASHINGTON - Insurance claims adjusters fanned out across Maryland to assess damage from Hurricane Isabel on Friday, but industry executives said it could be a week before the total cost is tallied.

The Insurance Information Institute has estimated that damage might total $1 billion over all the states that were in Isabel's path.

"It's truly a preliminary estimate," said Carolyn Gorman, vice president of the institute. "It's going to take probably a week or so to get any kind of numbers."

Gov. Robert Ehrlich's office could not estimate the cost of damages in Maryland, but a spokesman said Friday that Anne Arundel County, Baltimore City and eastern Baltimore County were thought to be the hardest hit.

"We can't get into a lot of the buildings to assess the damage. So we have to drain the buildings to do that," said Henry Fawell, a spokesman for the governor.

Claims adjusters, meanwhile, got down to the work of assessing the damage Friday.

"What our representatives will do is take the most serious claims and work their way down. Safety is extremely important and we may not be able to get into an area right away," said Jo Ahalt, spokeswoman for the mid-Atlantic office of State Farm Insurance.

Gorman agreed that adjusters will "be seeing the people who have been hurt the worse first." Her institute said that hundreds of claims adjusters from other states had come to look at Isabel's aftermath. Some brought laptops and satellite vans to aid their work.

"It still remains a triage operation," Gorman said.

She said people whose homes were too damaged to live in, or who had a tree or trees on top of their homes, could expect immediate financial assistance from their insurers.

"It depends, of course, on the nature of the loss. If it doesn't keep them from living in their homes, it's not going to be as much as it would be for someone with major damage," Gorman said. "They'll give them in some cases an ATM card with money on it."

President Bush released federal funds Friday for disaster relief in Maryland, declaring a "major disaster" in those areas of the state affected by Isabel.

"When you're named a disaster area, the state becomes eligible for up to 75 percent of the total storm cost," said Fawell.

According to Maryland National Guard Maj. Charles Kohler, the Guard had evacuated over 200 people in Anne Arundel County, the Eastern Shore and La Plata as of 4 p.m. Friday.

He said 600 Guardsmen were called up to respond to Isabel. By Friday, they had checked on senior citizens in 300 homes in La Plata, provided helicopters for federal officials to assess parts of central and Southern Maryland, and provided a tanker truck to Anne Arundel County in case its water treatment facility stopped functioning again.

In other areas of the state, the claims were much lighter than expected, agents said.

"We expected a whole barrage of claims and fortunately, people, I guess, were well prepared," said Regina Price, an agent for Erie Insurance Group in Rockville. "We had just a few claims for trees and that's about it. Lawn furniture and things like that."

Price added that she did have a couple claims from businesses with commercial freezers where the food was spoiling due to power outages.

"It was just sort of strange because where we are, it wasn't that bad," Price said.

-- CNS reporter Bethany Broida contributed to this report.

Copyright 2003 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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