Insurance Companies, National Guard Move Into Place As Florence Approaches East Coast

As Hurricane Florence approaches the East Coast, Connecticut’s insurance companies are moving into place, ready to assess what’s expected to be enormous property damage and begin a long process of reviewing claims immediately after the massive storm moves on.

Florence is heading northwest toward the Carolinas. The Category 4 storm, with winds between 130 and 156 mph, is expected to make landfall Friday with sustained winds close to 140 mph.

More than 10 million people are under hurricane warnings or watches in the Carolinas and Virginia, the National Weather Service said.

“There’s nothing going on, but it’s coming,” Martin Woods, a West Hartford-based property restoration consultant for insurance companies, said Wednesday from North Carolina. “The best you can do is board up what you can and hope when you come back there is stuff to come back to.

“Right now, we’re positioning ourselves so when it does hit, we’re in a good position to help clients,” he said. “All adjusters, all insurance companies are mobilizing.”

The Travelers Cos. Inc. and The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. have sent hundreds of adjusters and other staff to the region, reserving hotel rooms and establishing a presence to work with customers and others immediately after the storm passes.

Insurance representatives will work with local and state officials to help residents who have lost belongings and whose homes or apartments may be uninhabitable and small-business owners who face the prospect of closing for weeks. At the outset, all insurance company representatives and others in the region will have to wait for an all-clear from state officials after the hurricane moves out before it’s considered safe to move in.

“It could easily be a week before people in the area start the reconstruction process,” Woods said.

Many claims professionals for Travelers are equipped with drones to help conduct property inspections and develop damage estimates quickly, said Jim Wucherpfennig, vice president of property claims.

Insurance adjusters and others also have satellite photos and imagery before they arrive at properties, he said.

Travelers is monitoring the storm from its National Catastrophe Center in Windsor.

John Kinney, chief claims officer at The Hartford, said policies are coded to help determine how customers might be affected depending on the path and strength of the storm.

A recreational vehicle is outfitted with a cash machine, satellite technology, food and other necessities to help customers, he said. As of Wednesday afternoon, the RV was in Knoxville, Tenn., well beyond Florence’s projected path, he said.

“When the state gives its approval, we’re in there,” Kinney said.

“Most people have never filed a claim or filed very few,” he said. “It could be catastrophic damage. A lot of our customers won’t know what to do.”

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the Connecticut National Guard left Windsor Locks Wednesday, dispatching 10 National Guardsmen and two aircraft to Tennessee to help with the response. The crew and equipment will stage in the area to help cut down on the response time.

"There is no way to know exactly what Connecticut's piece of the mission will be until the storm passes and authorities have the opportunity to survey and prioritize needs," said Maj. Gen. Francis J. Evon, commander of the Connecticut National Guard.

A spokesman said Eversource is not sending crews south at this time, but that could change after the storm.

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