Insurance Claims Pile Up in Isabel's Wake

Thousands of claims are beginning to stream in to insurers as residents make their way back to their waterlogged and wind-blown homes after Hurricane Isabel (search).

Insured property losses from the storm could exceed $1 billion, which would make it one of the 10 costliest hurricanes in U.S. history, according to the Insurance Information Institute (search), or III.

Hurricane Fran (search), which struck the Carolinas, Virginia and Maryland in 1996, caused about $1.6 billion in insured losses, or about $1.83 billion today, according to III.

Hurricane Andrew, which struck parts of Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana in 1992, is the costliest hurricane in U.S. history, with $15.5 billion in insured losses, or about $19.9 billion today, according to III.

State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance Co., the nation's largest personal lines insurer, reported more than 28,000 personal auto and home claims in a nine-state area, said Mary Beth Cramer, a State Farm spokeswoman.

The Bloomington, Ill., mutual insurer has dispatched 1,150 catastrophe claims representatives to the area, she said.

Allstate Corp. (ALL) had 15,457 property claims and 1,394 auto claims in Virginia, 4,215 property claims and 430 auto claims in Maryland and 2,306 property claims and 341 auto claims in North Carolina, spokesman Bill Mellander said.

Most of the damage is minor to moderate — trees on top of houses, rather than through them, he said.

Holly Diefenbaugh, a spokeswoman for Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., said the Columbus, Ohio, mutual insurer has had more than 25,000 claims from the storm. The majority of claims are in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, she said.

Hartford Financial Services Group has received about 2,000 claims, so far, said Cynthia Michener, a Hartford spokeswoman. The Connecticut insurer has received about 50 claims that are considered heavy damage, she said.

Joe Madden, a spokesman for MetLife Auto & Home, a unit of MetLife Inc. (MET), said the insurer has only experienced a few large losses. Most of its claims are for debris removal and other minor costs, such as food spoilage in homes due to power outages.

A category 2 hurricane when it made landfall, Isabel struck the North Carolina coast about midday Thursday, with winds of about 100 miles per hour. The storm had been as powerful as a category 5 hurricane earlier last week with winds exceeding 150 mph.

President Bush declared a state of emergency in Virginia and North Carolina following the storm. More than a million people were without electricity as high winds downed trees on top of homes and across power lines.