HARTFORD, Conn. -- Jane Pulcini was walking up the stairs in her Newington, Conn., home Sunday around 11 a.m. when Hurricane Irene split an oak tree in her front yard, crashing a huge limb into the roof.
"So I'm going up the stairs, and I thought I heard thunder," said Pulcini, who raised five sons in the house and lived there with her husband, Guido "Guy" Pulcini, until he died a year and a half ago. "The noise was so loud, I just couldn't imagine what it was."
Sitting on the stairs of her 1960s split-level Garrison colonial, she could see the tree through a front window. Since moving to the home in 1963, she has filed three insurance claims. Two were this year -- one for ice damming on the roof last winter and now the oak tree. Pulcini had just put on a new room in July.
"Why couldn't the tree fall toward the street?" she said.
By Tuesday, Scott Wallquist, a claims adjuster with The Travelers Cos., was walking on her roof, measuring the square footage and surveying the damage. Front and back gutters would need to be replaced, she would need a new roof, and he plans to hire an inspector to see if the chimney still intact.
"I would just like to see someone run a camera down that chimney," Wallquist said, adding that Travelers will hire a chimney expert to investigate, especially because it is connected to Pulcini's furnace. "In two months, once she turns the furnace on, we want it to work."
Wallquist is one of thousands of Travelers employees responding to damaged homes and businesses along the East Coast this week. After claims are called in or filed online, they are organized into geographical areas and prioritized for damage, he said. Adjusters have been busy this year with ice dams in the winter, tornadoes in the spring and now Hurricane Irene. And another storm is brewing.
Property-casualty insurers have set up mobile response teams in Connecticut, New Jersey, Long Island and farther south, such as the Allstate and Travelers recreational vehicles in a Home Depot parking lot in East Haven, Conn. The Travelers mobile unit, for example, operates self-sufficiently with a generator and satellite. Inside are all the supplies to file claims, claims professionals and even an IT guy to troubleshoot computer problems.
Allstate spokesman Chris Conner was at the mobile response RV parked in East Haven. He said he saw a home that was partly crushed by a tree, though it spared a woman who was sleeping on the first floor below. Allstate has five mobile units across the East Coast. In Connecticut, Allstate has seen the most damage in the southwest corner of the state along the Interstate-95 corridor, Conner said.
Inside the Travelers RV, claims handlers were meeting with homeowners. Home Depot is a good spot because people who haven't already called in their insurance claim -- or filed one via smart phone or the insurer's website -- will see the mobile claims center as they buy supplies to fix their house.
It also helps to have people on-site.
"They want that person-to-person contact," said Nicole Wedall of Colchester, a Travelers claims professional.
She and fellow claims professional Rick Butera have responded to tornadoes and all manner of other catastrophes in the mobile claims center. While this year was busy, and property-casualty insurers have suffered unusually high losses on winter storms and tornadoes during the first half of the year, neither of them said the claims process is too busy.
"It's been the same every year," Wedall said. "Our business is kind of cyclical."
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