THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
A PATH OF DESTRUCTION

State has tips on storm claims

By Beth Healy
Globe Staff / June 3, 2011

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The Patrick administration yesterday urged state residents affected by tornado and storm damage to file claims with their insurers, while companies that insure business properties, homes, and cars geared up for the latest in a string of natural disasters.

“The phones here started ringing shortly after the tornadoes touched down in Western Massachusetts,’’ said Mark Welzenbach, chief claims officer at Hanover Insurance Group in Worcester. “We have policyholders who have already reported a number of claims.’’

Those claims — ranging from hail-battered cars and fallen fences to damaged commercial property and destroyed homes — came in slowly at first and picked up speed toward the end of yesterday, insurance specialists said. Officials said the full scope of the disaster would unfold over the coming days and weeks, as power is restored and residents take stock of the damage.

The state insurance commissioner, Joseph G. Murphy, said the storms that ripped through Springfield and numerous other towns and cities in the western part of the state caused “significant damage to homes and property.’’

Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. said its mobile claims response vehicle was en route to Springfield to provide customers a location other than their homes in which to meet with insurance representatives. The vehicle, essentially a mobile claims office, is expected to arrive by the weekend, said Glenn Greenberg, a spokesman for the Boston insurer.

“Our goal is to meet with our customers immediately and start the process of getting them whole again, getting their home repaired, getting their belongings replaced,’’ Greenberg said.

In the nation’s worst season of tornadoes in decades, some insurers are already stretched. Many are still responding to last month’s deadly tornado in Joplin, Mo., which killed at least 138 people and was the deadliest since modern record keeping began in 1950.

The Massachusetts Division of Insurance said it intends to help ensure that an “appropriate number of agents and adjusters are in affected areas as needed.’’ Liberty Mutual said it has “hundreds’’ of claims adjusters in Massachusetts and across the country to respond to its customers.

There have been 1,400 tornadoes nationally in the first five months of 2011, about 200 more than average, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, causing 515 deaths and billions of dollars in insurance claims.

Tornadoes caused $98 billion in US insurance losses from 1990 to 2009, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

The state’s Division of Insurance said damage from a tornado is considered wind damage and is covered by standard home insurance. The division issued a list of tips for consumers:

■Be safe. Do not try to re-enter your home or attempt repairs until it is safe to do so.

■ Keep children and pets away from down or low-hanging power lines.

■Do not make permanent repairs until the adjuster has inspected the property, but do take action to prevent further damage, like covering holes in the roof or removing water.

■Take pictures of the damage, particularly if you must throw away items of value that are bacteria-laden and no longer safe to preserve;

■Keep all receipts and documents outlining time spent securing property and conversations with the insurance company.

The state’s consumer hotline number for those seeking help is 617-521-7777.

Beth Healy can be reached at bhealy@globe.com.

Getting help

Residents affected by the tornadoes can call 211 to get information about the various agencies that are offering assistance.

Salvation Army In Springfield: 170 Pearl St.; 413-733-1518.

In Westfield: 12 Arnold St.; 413-568-1256.

Utilities Western Massachusetts Electric Co.: 877-659-6326 or

413-781-4300.

National Grid: 800-322-3223.

Red Cross RedCross.org; 800-733-2767.