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DETROIT-Commercial insurers appear likely to escape the brunt of the claims caused by violent thunderstorms and tornadoes that struck the Detroit area earlier this month.
Despite the speed with which the storms bore down on the Detroit metropolitan area the night of July 2, area risk managers reported relatively little damage. Insurers said the overwhelming majority of claims were to personal property.
The storms ravaged Detroit's west side and the cities of Hamtramck and Highland Park. At least 13 people died in a seven-county area around the Motor City as a result of the unusually violent weather.
The extent of property damage is not likely to be known for several days.
Although the Property Claim Services division of the American Insurance Services Group classified the Detroit-area damage as a catastrophe-meaning the weather had caused at least $25 million in insured damage-PCS did not have an estimate of total insured property damage late last week.
But Michigan State Police estimated $134 million in total damage last week. That figure is based on damage estimates from local authorities and has been verified by the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said a spokesman for the Michigan State Police Emergency Management Division in Lansing. He warned that a "drastic adjustment" in that number may occur as more information becomes available.
By the middle of last week, Michigan Gov. John Engler requested $60.2 million in federal aid for underinsured or uninsured properties. That figure was determined by a combination of local, state and FEMA investigators.
Gov. Engler asked President Clinton to declare a major disaster for the state of Michigan because of severe damage to public facilities, private homes and businesses. As of late last week, the president had not yet made that declaration.
At least eight businesses were destroyed and 357 were damaged, the state police spokesman said.
Allen Gross, president of Globe Midwest Corp., a claims adjuster in Southfield, said the $134 million damage estimate did not surprise him. "I think it could be more once they get into it," he said by cell phone as he drove through the streets of Detroit, looking at blocks of damaged houses and buildings.
Mr. Gross said he saw everything "from total losses to just a few windows blown out. A lot of roofs are gone, and depending on the area, water damage from rain."
"The claims are complicated because tornadoes cause hidden structural damage," said Mr. Gross. Buildings implode rather than explode due to tornadoes, he said, and twisters also can damage the steel beams and girders that make up buildings' internal structure.
Commercial insurers reported
relatively few claims.
A week after the storm struck, Long Grove, Ill.-based Kemper Insurance Cos. had received four commercial claims, with an estimated total loss of $200,000 to $250,000, a company spokesman said.
CNA Insurance Cos. received 41 commercial claims totaling $156,500 from all parts of Michigan struck by the storm, said a company spokeswoman. The Chicago-based insurer also received 297 personal lines claims totaling $974,000, she said.
A spokeswoman for Allendale Mutual Insurance Co. of Johnstown, R.I., called Allendale's claims from the storms "negligible."
Spokeswomen for both Protection Mutual Insurance Co. of Park Ridge, Ill., and Hartford, Conn.-based Industrial Risk Insurers said the insurers had received no claims at all as of last week.
In contrast, a Michigan personal lines insurer, AAA Michigan, the Dearborn-based insurance subsidiary of the Automobile Assn. of America, reported having received 2,348 homeowners claims and 750 auto claims, with no projection of losses expected for several days. AAA Michigan is the state's fourth-largest homeowners insurer.
Bloomington, Ill.-based State Farm Mutual Insurance Co.'s Marshall, Mich., office said the insurer estimates it will receive 5,000 storm-related claims, with an early estimated total loss of $15 million.
Citizens Corp., parent of Howell, Mich.-based Citizens Insurance Co. of America, on Friday announced claims of about $15 million from the storms. The company, which writes personal and commercial lines, reported that reinsurance will cover 95% of its losses above $10 million.
National Insurance Group of Columbus, Ohio, had received slightly more than 100 claims in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties, with the typical claim averaging about $1,300.
Northbrook, Ill.-based Allstate Insurance Co. received about 2,900 claims from the Detroit area but would not release loss estimates.
The storm hit so quickly that risk managers said they had no time to take any steps to mitigate potential damage.
The storm gave "no warning; no one knew it would be this severe," said Nancy Rough, manager of insurance for The Budd Co., a Troy, Mich.-based manufacturer. "We knew we'd get heavy rains, but there was no time to do preparation."
No claims have been called in from Budd's subsidiaries, she added.
American Axle & Manufacturing Inc. of Detroit suffered "minimal damage," a spokeswoman said, even though it had no time to brace itself for the storm.
The storm ripped parts of the roofs from buildings on two Wayne County Community College campuses outside of Detroit. The damage estimate was between $3.2 million and $4 million, a spokesman said. The Wayne County Community College District is insured by the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority, a municipal insurance pool. "We're self-insured to $500,000," the spokesman said.
Classes were in session when the tornadoes hit and tore the roofs off buildings and broke windows. The spokesman estimated close to 800 students, teachers and support staff were on the two campuses at the time of the storm.
Afterward, staff discovered the storm had picked up and lifted a three-ton rooftop heating and air conditioning unit half a foot, the spokesman said.
Between July 2 and July 8, nearly 330,000 customers of Detroit Edison Co. went without power-some for days. "We've just completed service restoration," said a Detroit Edison spokeswoman on Wednesday. The storm and five tornadoes knocked down or ripped up utility poles, transformers and wires in downtown Detroit and surrounding suburbs.
The spokeswoman said Detroit Edison has not filed a claim with its insurer, which she refused to identify. "There hasn't been enough time," she said. The company was still determining payroll for the overtime its employees worked during the clean up, she said.
Bernard Schroeder, senior claims executive for broker J&H Marsh & McLennan Inc. in Parsippany, N.J., said claims were "fortunately not major." About a dozen claims have been filed and run the gamut from $10,000 to $1 million, Mr. Schroeder said. He said he had heard of no claims in the $5 million to $10 million range.
"We feel lucky this wasn't another Andrew," he said, referring to the 1992 hurricane that devastated south Florida. The Detroit-area storm's impact was more on families and residential properties than on businesses and commercial properties, he added.
The broker is handling one claim in Minnesota from the same storm system. The client was near completing a building when its roof was blown off and eight rooftop air conditioning units fell to the ground.
J&H Marsh &*McLennan is the broker for several hospitals in the Detroit area that were damaged, as well as a Detroit auto parts maker.
Municipalities also are working on damage estimates and cleanup. "There wasn't much damage to commercial property," said a spokesman from the Detroit mayor's office.
Damage to Tiger Stadium was "no big deal," a spokeswoman for the baseball team said. "It was like shingles falling off a roof. The grounds crew cleaned up quickly."
But the hard-hit city of Hamtramck had "landmark business that will never be seen again," said Robert Kozaren, mayor of Hamtramck, which is surrounded by Detroit.
"Hamtramck got the worst of it," he said. "There should have been bodies all over the place." Only one resident, though, died, suffering a heart attack after removing downed trees, he said.
"We're compiling information now," he added. "Trees are on people's houses. Insurance companies set up a headquarters in town."