Insurance companies are expected to have started the claims process on all tornado-damaged properties by the end of this week, Florida Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher said Monday.
"We're grading the companies on how they treat their customers," said Gallagher, the state's regulator for the industry, during an afternoon visit to neighborhoods here that were devastated by the twisters last weekend.
In South Florida, Gallagher has set a deadline of Oct. 15 for insurance companies to have at least started the paperwork on as many as 700,000 claims resulting from Hurricane Andrew in August.
Such an extensive delay won't happen here, Gallagher said, because the event was more manageable. He said the tornadoes probably will result in 5,000 claims.
Insurance companies had paid visits to their customers for about half of those claims as of Monday, Gallagher said.
"If they don't come by (today), call us," Gallagher told residents of Park Royale Mobile Home Village, where many homes were severely damaged by the violent winds.
Gallagher estimated the total damage from the tornadoes was about $35-million, compared with a toll of more than $8-billion from Hurricane Andrew.
"The devastation is as bad here for the individuals who lost their homes," Gallagher said.
With news helicopters buzzing overhead and reporters trailing him, Gallagher walked down streets and through back yards strewn with storm wreckage. He introduced himself and shook hands with residents.
"I'm glad you're okay," he told Dorman Walradt, 77, who said he fell unconscious in the storm and then crawled out from the collapsed remains of his mobile home.
Gallagher told reporters the recent events should prompt more Floridians to check their insurance policies to make sure their homes and belongings are adequately covered.
Insurance industry officials said Monday that they are still mobilizing to deal with the disaster, which came so soon after Andrew.
"With the hurricane, we had time to prepare," said Terri Fritsch, a spokeswoman for State Farm Insurance Cos. "This time, there was no advance warning."
Compared with Andrew, the tornadoes have Nationwide Insurance Cos. feeling a burden disproportionate to the damage because the company enjoys a healthier share of the market in mid-Pinellas County than in Dade County, said spokesman Bob Eberhard.
Meanwhile, Al Orendorff, a spokesman for Allstate Insurance Cos., said the company is also feeling a strain on staffing. He said the company is scrambling to have 100 adjusters in the Tampa Bay area by the end of the week.
But the officials said their companies had substantial financial reserves to handle the added burden.
"Financially, we're fine," Orendorff said.
Gallagher said that if necessary, a state guaranty fund would step in to pay claims if an insurance company becomes insolvent.
WHAT TO DO
If your home was damaged by the tornadoes, you should:
1 Assess the damage to the best of your ability. Be prepared to offer an accurate description. (For example, roof partly blown away, seven windows broken, ceiling spotted from leaks.)
2 Notify your insurance agent or company representatives immediately. The insurance contract requires notification as soon as possible after a loss. Be ready to leave a name and phone number where you can be reached.
3 If debris prevents you from inhabiting your home or if it could cause further damage, tell your agent when you report the loss.
4 Make whatever temporary repairs you can to prevent further damage. Board broken windows; cover holes in the roof with plastic or other materials.
5 Take steps to protect your property from theft or vandalism, and do what you can to salvage and protect damaged property.
6 Take photographs of the damage to assist the adjuster.
7 If you wish, get detailed estimates for permanent repairs from a reliable contractor and offer it to your adjuster. Check with consumer agencies before hiring a contractor you don't know.
8 Prepare an inventory of all damaged or destroyed personal property for the adjuster, including a description of the items, approximate date of purchase, cost at time of purchase and estimated replacement value.
9 Collect canceled checks, invoices or receipts to help the adjuster place a value on damaged or destroyed property.
1O Obtain repair estimates for furniture or other personal property that can be repaired economically.
Source: Florida Insurance
Numbers to call
Here are the numbers of some of the major insurance companies in this area:
State Farm: (800) 326-2431
Allstate: (800) 767-9717
Nationwide: (800) 421-3535
Liberty Mutual: (800) 282-6218, (800) 526-1547 after business hours.