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Mobile adjusters move in to help

Mark Henn spent Sunday assuring people who had lost just about everything that everything would be okay.

"Don't worry," Henn, a claims adjuster for Allstate Insurance, told Agnes Burdick. "We're going to help you. You'll have to be patient."

But on Sunday morning, Burdick, 78, was impatient.

Half of her home in the Autumn Run subdivision had been destroyed by a tornado the day before. Much of the roof was on the front lawn. Her kitchen was filled with insulation, shattered glass and splintered beams. There was no power or water or phone service.

Yet one of the bedrooms looked untouched. And while the twister smashed all Burdick's precious porcelain plates mounted on one wall of the foyer, the 28 plates on the other wall remained untouched.

"We're staying," Burdick told Henn. "We don't want to leave because the kids are going to vandalize the place. We want to save what we can."

Moments earlier, city workers had posted a bright orange notice on Mrs. Burdick's home. "Unfit for human habitation," it read. The Burdick home, like every one of the 12 houses on the north side of Fallingleaf Court, had been condemned.

"No, you'll have to leave," counseled Henn. "They've condemned your house. You'll have to relocate. We'll get someone to help get you moved out."

Henn's reluctant client finally nodded her head.

Henn is one of 45 Allstate adjusters who brought gentle persuasion, kind encouragement and emergency insurance checks into storm-ravaged neighborhoods in Pinellas County on Sunday.

The company already expects to pay billions of dollars in claims to victims of Hurricane Andrew. Saturday's tornadoes probably will produce a few million more in claims, though insurance carriers keep those figures secret.

Allstate agents took more than 200 claims in the five hours after the storm struck Saturday. Agents in a recreational vehicle marked "Allstate Catastrophe Team," parked in Autumn Run, estimated they handed out $75,000 to $100,000 in emergency living expense checks between 9 a.m. and noon Sunday.

"This is as bad as I've seen since I came to Florida 13 years ago," said Henn as he cruised through what was left of a four square block area in Autumn Run.

He carried a computer printout of Allstate policy holders, but clients weren't difficult to find.

"People have learned from Hugo and Andrew," said Henn as he pointed to a homeowner spray-painting "Allstate" and his policy number on the outside of his house. Before the day was over, dozens of residents would paint similar informational graffiti on their homes.

Henn pulled over at 6291 109th Ter. and asked the spray painter, Bill Cribbs, if he'd had any looters. No, said Cribbs, but they sure would have an easy time of it.

Half of Cribbs' roof was missing. Boxes balanced precariously on wooden beams in a now-exposed attic. Windows were blown out. The fence around the pool had vanished. Part of the concrete block garage was caved in.

"You can't stay here," said Henn. "You need to get your cash, important papers, valuables and jewelry out, and secure the place the best you can. Then get an apartment or somewhere else to live. We'll pay for it."

Cribbs, a Publix manager with a wife and daughter, stayed with a relative in a cramped mobile home Saturday night. He asked Henn if he could rent an RV and put it on his property until the house is repaired. Henn said he could.

Contractors swarmed through the neighborhood Sunday. Henn said that in many cases, Allstate will authorize selected contractors to move household items to a warehouse for safekeeping, then complete repairs quickly with direct billing to the insurance company.

Back over on Fallingleaf Court, Henn told Pat Firman she might want to find a temporary home for several months. Her $100,000 frame house was in shambles.

"It looks like a total loss," said Henn. "But you're covered for replacement costs, so you're all set. Try to salvage what you can, put together an inventory of contents and find an apartment where you stay for a while.

"You can't rebuild a house in a month. But you'll be okay."

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