tampabay.com

Claims processing begins for insurers

By Catherine E. Shoichet and Tom Zucco
Published February 7, 2007


LADY LAKE - The state's two largest homeowners insurance companies said Tuesday that they expected to process close to 1,100 claims from homeowners whose residences were damaged from the tornadoes and high winds that swept through Central Florida.

The predawn storms left 20 people dead and about 1,500 structures damaged, state officials said.

Tim Loftin, senior vice president of claims for Citizens Property Insurance Corp., said in a statement Tuesday that the company hopes to have "100 percent of the claims inspected by this weekend and 80 percent of them settled."

By noon Tuesday, Citizens had processed more than 225 claims and was expecting about 275 more. The company has yet to place a dollar figure on damage.

State Farm estimated that it will process about 600 claims totaling about $23-million. As of noon Tuesday, the company had processed 445 homeowner claims, including 109 for homes that were judged uninhabitable.

State Farm also has processed 216 claims for auto damage.

United Services Automobile Association, which has about 1,000 members in the affected area, had processed 108 homeowner and nine auto claims as of Tuesday.

A spokesman for Allstate Floridian, the state's third-largest insurer, said damage for its policyholders was minimal.

Storm survivors also will have another source to turn to for assistance, Gov. Charlie Crist said Tuesday.

Crist expanded the state's hurricane fund to include aid for victims of all disasters, including Friday's deadly tornadoes.

Standing with state and local officials beside the tornado-ravaged Lady Lake Church of God, Crist announced $165,000 in corporate donations to the new Florida Disaster Recovery Fund. He praised the work of first responders and government agencies after the storm.

"This is not Louisiana, and the response has been dramatic and it's been fantastic," Crist said.

He said relief efforts will go on for as long as necessary.

"This is going to continue for a long time," Crist said. "We've got to be vigilant. We've got to follow up and follow through."

Just a short drive away, government workers and volunteers were starting the first steps of that process.

With chain saws buzzing and hammers clanking in the background, Lady Lake residents filed into the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Disaster Recovery Center on Griffin View Drive.

FEMA set up the large white tent - one of five in the state - Tuesday morning after Lady Lake officials asked for a larger presence from the agency.

"When they come in here, they're actually shaken. They can't remember anything," said Marie Brand, a volunteer for the state Department of Elder Affairs, who walked door to door Tuesday telling residents about the new center. "We're helping them fill out the forms."

By late Tuesday 1,157 residents of Lake, Seminole, Sumter and Volusia counties had applied to FEMA for disaster assistance, spokesman Duane Bradford said.

One of them was Sharon Styx, 58. Cleanup crews already were ripping out rugs and cutting down trees around her home.

"It just looks like locusts came in and took everything out," she said.

The tornadoes caused $15.2-million worth of damage in Lake County, destroying 129 homes and damaging about 150 others.

Crews there already have hauled away 25,000 cubic yards of debris, said Chris Patton, a spokesman with the Lake County Emergency Operations Center.

In Sumter County, officials estimated that 164 homes were destroyed and that more than 1,200 were damaged.

Mickey Torcivia, 86, also stopped by the FEMA center in Lady Lake to seek support. A tree crashed through her roof Friday morning, destroying her uninsured mobile home in the Sunshine Mobile Home Park. She said she wasn't sure how much the government would help.

FEMA officials said it can take as long as 10 days to receive assistance after registering.

"Ask me on Thursday," Torcivia said. "I have enough money for two more nights, and that's it."

Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at 352 860-7309 or cshoichet@sptimes.com Tom Zucco can be reached at (727) 893-8247 or zucco@sptimes.com.

To help out

Tax-deductible donations to the Florida Disaster Recovery Fund can be made securely online at www.volunteerflorida foundation.org or by calling toll-free 1-800-825-3786. Checks are accepted and can be made payable to the Florida Disaster Recovery Fund and mailed to the Volunteer Florida Foundation, 401 S Monroe St., Tallahassee, FL 32301.