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Millions Of Dollars In Insurance Claims In Tornado's Aftermath03:15
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Monson in the aftermath of the tornado, last week (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Monson in the aftermath of the tornado, last week (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The tornadoes that ripped through central and western Massachusetts last week created one of the worst disasters in the state and will translate into millions of dollars in insurance claims. That's the word from state officials as they, along with federal authorities, continue to assess the damage.

The state needs to report at least $8.3 million in public property damage to qualify for federal relief aid. But initial damage estimates suggest the costs will be well above that threshold.

Teams from the Massachusetts and federal emergency management agencies say they are already halfway through the process of assessing and putting a price tag on damage caused by last Wednesday's tornadoes.

So far, the figures released are related to damage to homes. More than 5,000 homeowners in Massachusetts have filed insurance claims, totaling $90 million.

"This $90 million figure is the largest for Massachusetts in memory," said Barbara Anthony, the state's undersecretary of consumer affairs and business regulation.

The state needs to report at least $8.3 million in public property damage to qualify for federal relief aid. But initial damage estimates suggest the costs will be well above that threshold.

Anthony said that number is expected to grow many times over as data continue to come in from insurance carriers. And the figure does not include damage to public property, businesses or cars. Those costs will be included for the Federal Emergency Management case.

On Tuesday afternoon, Roberta Perry of Wilbraham was picking up a check from an insurance claims adjuster who had camped out on Route 5 in West Springfield.

Perry said she came home last Wednesday to find two trees on top of her house. After she called a removal service Thursday morning, she called Safety Insurance and filed a claim.

The process has been smooth, she said, even if she's only been given a portion of her full claim, just to get started on "the initial start-up [costs] for the out-of-pocket stuff, you know, like the tree removal, just stuff that you need attention to, picking up trash bags and picking up and things like that, just to be able to live," Perry said.

Fran Gurten, the claims adjuster from Safety Insurance, said her company thought it would be a good idea to set up a mobile office in the area. The afternoon has been busy, she said, and she's handing out checks ranging from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand.

"I get emails for my office, where they've approved advanced payments for people, or additional living expenses, and the people will come here and I can write them the checks to at least get them started," Gurten said. "It's obviously not the end of their claim, but mostly we want to get people back on their feet as much as we can, right away."

As homeowners continue to assess damage to their properties, the state, along with Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno, said there have been a few reports of fly-by-night contractors coming in to the area to take advantage of homeowners desperate for help with repairs.

"There are unscrupulous, despicable individuals out there that will look to prey on people who have been traumatized right now," Sarno said, "playing on their fears, playing on their emotions — 'If you give me this money, I'll take care of it.'"

One woman on Russell Street in West Springfield, who declined to talk on tape, said a man went door-to-door earlier this week offering to sell plastic tarps for $1,500 a piece. She recognized that as price gouging and asked him to leave.

Tornado Coverage:

This program aired on June 8, 2011.

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