Insurers observe Charley damage

Company executives visit several homes in Port Charlotte, Fla.

August 20, 2004|By Kathy Bushouse | Kathy Bushouse,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - The scorching afternoon sun shone through Sue Marcoline's roof. Chunks of her ceiling lay in white heaps on the floor. Standing water covered her dining room floor and broken glass littered her living room.

Marcoline had one question for Nationwide Insurance President Doug Robinette when he showed up at her home yesterday: How was she to live here again?

Her house ravaged by Hurricane Charley, Marcoline, a real estate agent, called a claims adjuster from Nationwide. The adjuster told her that her house could be repaired, though Charlotte County officials told her that her home would likely be condemned, Marcoline said.

"Some houses are livable," she said yesterday, as she walked Robinette and Florida Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher through her home. "This one is not."

Robinette agreed. "This is clearly not livable," he said, and promised to send a claims manager as soon as possible.

Executives from many of Florida's top 20 insurance companies saw firsthand yesterday the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Charley. First, they saw the damage from a Black Hawk helicopter, flying over Central and Southwest Florida. Then they saw the damage from the ground, in an hourlong tour of Port Charlotte.

"It's one thing to see it from the air," said Gallagher, who has flown over the area three times since Charley hit last Friday. "It's another thing to see it on the ground."

Insured damages from Charley are expected to be at least $7.4 billion, according to estimates released this week by the Insurance Information Institute. Thousands of claims are pouring into companies each day.

Executives vowed yesterday to process claims quickly, bring more adjusters into the area, and provide more money for living expenses. During the tour with Gallagher, they gave handshakes and business cards to customers along the way.

Joel Taylor, 62, got a visit from Phil Lawson, field vice president for Allstate Insurance and its Florida subsidiary, Allstate Floridian Insurance.

"If your claim doesn't come quickly, I'd like to know that," Lawson said. A felled tree damaged Taylor's home, where he has lived for 32 years.

Already, signs of mold were creeping up in Taylor's ceiling - more proof that claims need to be made and repairs need to be finished quickly, Gallagher said.

State Farm Florida President Joe Formusa gave similar assurance to customer Lloyd Goodmon, whose screened-in porch landed in his swimming pool. His roof sustained serious damage and his skylight cracked.

"We'll treat you fair and we'll take care of you," Formusa said after surveying Goodmon's back patio.

Insurance companies are expecting to take a sizable hit from Charley, though many companies' officials say they are still trying to get a clearer picture of just how much that cost will be.

Most will be able to get money from the state's multibillion-dollar Hurricane Catastrophe Fund to help pay for claims, but Charley still is likely to be a major hit to their profits.

Still, insurance industry officials have said Charley is not likely to cause companies to raise rates.

Bloomberg News Service contributed to this article. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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