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Though several feet of snow melted and rivers rose over their banks in numerous counties in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, and New York last week, commercial areas were spared most of the damage.
"We've had a few isolated cases, but most of the flooding did not affect areas where businesses are located," said Charles Ruoff, senior vp at Sedgwick James Inc. in New York.
Since commercial insurance coverage normally excludes flood damage, businesses that did suffer damage may be uninsured.
"In general, the flood damage would be covered by federal government flood policies and not private-sector policies. There are some commercial policies, particularly for highly protected risks which would cover flood, but we're not aware of too many buildings or structures that would have been damaged by the flood that would fall into this category," said Sean F. Mooney, senior vp and economist at the Insurance Information Institute in New York.
Jon S. Saltzman, president of Penn-American Insurance Co. in Hatboro, Pa., said commercial insurers will not face claims if policyholders have flood protection through the National Flood Insurance program.
"Flood isn't a covered peril on most property policies, and when a peril's not covered, it's not covered," he said, noting that neither property damage nor business interruption for flood is normally covered by all-risks insurance policies.
Allendale Mutual Insurance Co. in Johnston, R.I., is expecting claims in the "low millions," said Michael McIntyre, senior vp at the HPR insurer. "Some of that will be covered under the federal program, and what's left is either facultatively reinsured or we take it net."
Other claims could come in difference-in-conditions policies, which are often written by inland marine insurers, said James Mooney, president of the Inland Marine Underwriters Assn. in New York.
DIC coverage is usually bought as a supplement to all-risks policies that exclude flood and earthquake risks, he said. DIC policies often cover property being transported through a hazardous zone.
But, large flooding claims are unlikely, he said.
In some cases, DIC coverage also covers property permanently located in a flood zone, said Mr. Ruoff of Sedgwick. But as the flooded areas were generally not industrial or commercial, insurers will not receive many DIC claims, he said.
While insurers will pay very few flood-related claims, they will still see claims through their involvement in the federal flood program. Insurers sell the policies, service them, handle claims, adjust losses and reap a commission on the premium paid.
Only the National Flood Insurance Program, which is run by the Federal Insurance Administration, a unit of the Federal Emergency Management Administration, pays claims.
Insurers and agents that sell the program make about 10% to 15% in commissions on the policies, which are cheaper than flood insurance written on a DIC basis by commercial companies. Taxpayer money is not used to pay claims.
FEMA has been encouraging insurers in the plan to aggressively promote the flood coverage, said a spokesman for Aetna Life & Casualty Co. in Hartford, Conn., which participates in the program.
Aetna has increased its number of policyholders covered by the plan by between 15% and 20% a year over the past several years, in line with FEMA policy, he said.
An NFIP spokesman said 8,000 to 10,000 claims are expected in the eight states hit by flooding. By last Thursday, 5,738 had been reported to the FIA.
In total, 437,056 policies were in force last November in Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, up about 10% from the number of policies that were in force in the same areas in November 1994.
The spokesman said the NFIP had not predicted how much the flood will cost but said the historical average claim is $12,000.
During the 1993 Midwest floods, the NFIP paid 10,214 claims, totaling $270.1 million.
"The Midwest flooding involved three of the biggest rivers in the United States. You had a 120-mile flood zone in Illinois alone. This is not even close to that, but Pennsylvania is the worst hit," he said.
As of Thursday, the NFIP had received word that 3,677 claims were filed in Pennsylvania.
In individual states, damage estimates differed greatly.
In Pennsylvania, total snow and flood damage to state-owned facilities and construction projects exceeds $18.25 million, said Gary E. Crowell, secretary of the Pennsylvania department of general services.
About $15.75 million of the damage was due to flood.
The Fort Pitt Museum in Pittsburgh sustained about $500,000 in flood damage to the grounds and buildings, he said.
In total, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission reported $1.1 million in damages to historical sites and buildings.
Penn State University suffered $200,000 in snow and flood damage to the roof, downspouts, electrical and plumbing systems of buildings on the University Park Campus.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has buildings and contents flood coverage with St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Co. in St. Paul, Minn., a spokeswoman said.
Pennsylvania has a $1 million self-insured retention and $25 million in coverage.
However, not all of the $15.75 million in flood damage will be covered, since some of the damage was sustained by state parks and other buildings which are not covered by the policy, she said.
The governor's residence, which had a flooded basement, is covered by the National Flood Insurance program, the spokeswoman said.
In Virginia, the Department of Emergency Services said total flood damage will exceed $70 million. Flooding was worst along the Shenandoah River, and a flood wall built several years ago on the James River near Richmond may have saved that city from serious flooding, said a department spokeswoman.
But in New Jersey, despite severe flooding along the Delaware River, a state police spokesman said damage likely will not be great enough for Gov. Christine Todd Whitman to declare the state a disaster area.
In New York, Gov. George E. Pataki declared a disaster emergency in 22 counties affected by flooding and ice jams. Most of the damage was to private homes.
In West Virginia state-owned facilities sustained about $25 million in damage. No estimates for other damage were available late last week, said a spokeswoman for the West Virginia governor's office.
Mark Hofmann contributed to this report.