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TEXAS CLAIMS TOP $100 MILLION

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SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Insurers are totaling claims from the latest round of bad weather that caused flooding in south and central Texas.

Heavy rains that tapered off early last week flooded rivers and creeks in San Antonio and other communities, killing at least 26 and causing widespread damage to homes and businesses.

Downtown San Antonio largely was spared because an underground drainage system completed last December funneled water away from the area. The San Antonio River Tunnel was built to carry flood runoff away from the downtown area and allow it to re-enter the river downstream.

Early estimates are that total damages in San Antonio "won't be a mega number, probably less than $100 million," said John German, director of public works for the city. "It may be quite a lot less in the city limits."

However, he added, "I could be surprised and find things that would make that number larger."

Mr. German said streets were washed out and that water damaged the lower floors of city hall, fire stations and other buildings.

Like the floodwaters, property claims are rising. Private insurers expect to pay more than $100 million in claims related to the flooding, according to the Southwestern Insurance Information Service, an industry trade group in Austin, Texas.

The total is expected to climb much higher as rivers and creeks flood downstream after the rain has stopped, said Jerry Johns, president of SIIS. "These could be the most costly flood losses for insurers in decades."

Mr. Johns pointed out that his group's estimate does not include losses under coverage written by the National Flood Insurance Program. It's "anyone's guess" what the total insured losses will be from the storm, he said.

The NFIP, which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Assn., did not have claim amounts last week but released figures that indicate the program's exposure. In Travis County, which includes Austin, 5,323 policies are in force, representing $549.2 million in coverage. In Bexar County, where San Antonio is located, 2,217 polices are in place, amounting to $225.5 million in coverage.

Insured losses, including those covered under the NFIP, will be high, according to Mr. Johns, because the flooding "involves the entire central part of Texas" and stretches into the southern part of the state.

Storms that dumped as much as 20 inches of rain in some areas blanketed the region from San Antonio north to Austin, causing swollen creeks and streams to flood low-lying areas.

Hard hit were neighborhoods on the east side of San Antonio and areas of New Braunfels, further north, where flood waters swept away cars and tore houses from their foundations.