Insurers respond to Irene claims with mobile units, busy adjusters

Sep 1 2011 - 11:35am

Images

Susan Huggins ,left, and her husband Allan , center, and Christine Owad register with Fema at the FEMA Command post for victims of Tropical Storm Irene in Prattsville, N.Y., Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011. President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in New York, freeing up federal recovery funds for people in the counties of Albany, Delaware, Dutchess, Essex, Greene, Schenectady, Schoharie and Ulster as well as for the state and local governments. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)
This photo provided by Mandana Marsh, contractor Giacomo Pastore works outside a house in Richmond, Va., that was sliced down the middle by an oak on Aug. 30, 2011. Dead and damaged trees have become the most visible remnant of Irene's path in Virginia. All four deaths in the state and about one-quarter of the 40-plus deaths linked to Irene have been linked to fallen trees, and more may be related to trees taking down power lines. The Virginia victims were all struck by trees, either in their homes, vehicles or while outside. (AP Photo/Mandana Marsh)
Craig Keoun tries to salvage belongings from the collapsed house of Jon Graham in Rochester, Vt., on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011. Graham's house was destroyed by waters from the Brook Street Brook on Sunday. (AP Photo/The Burlington Free Press, Glenn Russell)
Vermont National Guard emergency airlift unloads supplies for the isolated town of Rochester, Vt., where civilians help unload the cargo, Wednesday Aug. 31, 2011. About 2 million people remained without power in water-logged homes and businesses from North Carolina through New England, where hurricane-turned-tropical-storm Irene has been blamed for at least 45 deaths in 13 states. (AP Photo/Robert Ray)
The swollen Passaic River floods River Road in Paterson, N.J., Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011. Three days after Hurricane Irene blasted through the state and up the East Coast, there was little respite for many northern New Jersey communities facing a lengthy cleanup and a sobering tally of damage. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)
Susan Huggins ,left, and her husband Allan , center, and Christine Owad register with Fema at the FEMA Command post for victims of Tropical Storm Irene in Prattsville, N.Y., Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011. President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in New York, freeing up federal recovery funds for people in the counties of Albany, Delaware, Dutchess, Essex, Greene, Schenectady, Schoharie and Ulster as well as for the state and local governments. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)
This photo provided by Mandana Marsh, contractor Giacomo Pastore works outside a house in Richmond, Va., that was sliced down the middle by an oak on Aug. 30, 2011. Dead and damaged trees have become the most visible remnant of Irene's path in Virginia. All four deaths in the state and about one-quarter of the 40-plus deaths linked to Irene have been linked to fallen trees, and more may be related to trees taking down power lines. The Virginia victims were all struck by trees, either in their homes, vehicles or while outside. (AP Photo/Mandana Marsh)
Craig Keoun tries to salvage belongings from the collapsed house of Jon Graham in Rochester, Vt., on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011. Graham's house was destroyed by waters from the Brook Street Brook on Sunday. (AP Photo/The Burlington Free Press, Glenn Russell)
Vermont National Guard emergency airlift unloads supplies for the isolated town of Rochester, Vt., where civilians help unload the cargo, Wednesday Aug. 31, 2011. About 2 million people remained without power in water-logged homes and businesses from North Carolina through New England, where hurricane-turned-tropical-storm Irene has been blamed for at least 45 deaths in 13 states. (AP Photo/Robert Ray)
The swollen Passaic River floods River Road in Paterson, N.J., Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011. Three days after Hurricane Irene blasted through the state and up the East Coast, there was little respite for many northern New Jersey communities facing a lengthy cleanup and a sobering tally of damage. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)

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."

(c)2011 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

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