Oct. 29--Homeowners assessing damage from Hurricane Sandy should take steps -- safely -- to prevent more damage, take photos and call their insurance agent, an industry spokeswoman said Monday.
Still, homeowners shouldn't expect swift repairs, especially if the damage isn't serious, Lynne McChristian, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute said.
"The people with the most damage get seen first," McChristian said.
Hurricane Sandy seems all but assured to be the most expensive natural disaster to hit New Jersey, taking aim on $55 billion worth of coastal property in Monmouth and Ocean counties, not to mention billions more inland in the affluent Garden State. It comes only a year after many homeowners and business owners were forced to rebuild after the remnants of Hurricane Irene struck New Jersey.
Homeowners' insurance policies generally cover damage to the building's structure and the contents inside. It doesn't include flood insurance, which homeowners in flood zones typically buy through a government program or private insurers.
Just like last year, a lot of money rides on semantics. A storm classified by the National Weather Service as a hurricane -- with sustained winds of 74 mph anywhere in the state -- would trigger more expensive hurricane deductibles.
That means homeowners would pay anywhere from 1 percent to 5 percent of the value of their home for repairs, with insurers covering the rest. So a homeowner with a $350,000 home and a 2 percent deductible would pay the first $7,000. If it's not a hurricane, homeowners would pay a less expensive deductible, about $500 to $1,000. That information is on the first page of most homeowners' policies.
It wasn't clear if the criteria for a hurricane would be met. The National Weather Service's forecast at noon on Monday said the storm would have sustained winds of 40 mph to 55 mph and gusts of more than 75 mph for "a prolonged period of time."
The state's Acting Banking and Insurance Commissioner Kenneth Kobylowski likely would make a ruling as to whether a hurricane deductible will apply.
Homeowners in the path of Sandy face two major threats to their property: floods that with a storm surge of more than 10 feet can have the impact of a massive wind; and winds that can tear shingles from the roof and soak ceilings, an expert said Monday.
The floods are life-threatening. The winds are damaging. And it sets the stage for a major rebuilding effort.
"If people do lose their shingles, chances are they'll have serious water in the house," said Tim Reinhold, senior vice president for research and chief engineer for The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, a Tampa, Fla., an advocate for the property insurance industry.
Reinhold said homeowners in flood zones should have evacuated; if the home is flooded by a 10-foot storm surge and then hit by a wave, it can have the same force as a 125 mph wind. "That's how most people die in these things," Reinhold said.
After the storm passes, he said homeowners who find shingles missing should inspect their ceiling for water damage. If the sheet rock is soaked, the ceiling could collapse.
Some of the state's biggest insurance companies said they ramped up their operations. Allstate, New Jersey's second biggest insurer after State Farm, said it is adding 1,100 claims personnel to its staff. And New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Co., the third biggest insurer, said it would have 300 people taking reports of claims.
Michael L. Diamond; 732-643-4038; mdiamond
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