A vehicle sits in a debris field in the aftermath of a possible tornado in Adel, Ga., in January. (AP Photo/Brendan Farrington)

Georgia insurance agency plans help in Irma’s aftermath

With the remnants of Hurricane Irma hammering Georgia on Monday, the state’s insurance commissioner was developing a plan of action to respond to what will likely be a costly storm for homeowners and businesses.

Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens is considering setting up mobile “villages” where Georgians can come to meet with representatives of the state’s largest homeowners insurance companies to get claims expedited.

“If severe weather should cause significant damage in Georgia, I plan to send claims experts to the affected areas for face-to-face consultations,” Hudgens said.

Channel 2's Aaron Diamant, Carl Willis and Jim Strickland give us a quick look at damage across the metro from Tropical Storm Irma.

Hudgens did something similar in South Georgia in January, when tornadoes ripped through the area and the commissioner estimated losses at more than $100 million. Glenn Allen, the commissioners’ spokesman, said hundreds had their claims processed during the “claims village” events.

It was too early to make any kind of accurate estimates as the storm was moving through Georgia on Monday, but Hudgens sent a message last week to leading insurers telling them to prepare for a large volume of claims.

Hudgens had to shift his emphasis somewhat in recent days. Staffers said he spent a lot of time talking to media last week in coastal Georgia because that area looked like it could be the hurricane’s main target.

The commissioner’s office urged Georgians in the path to take an inventory of their belongings and shoot photos and videos so there is a record.

In South Georgia in January, many of the losses were uninsured. This time out, if there is water damage, many Georgians may find that standard homeowners policies don’t cover flood damage.

State officials urged homeowners and business owners who have property damage to file a claim as soon as possible with their agents. Some policies require homeowners to file a claim within a set time. “Your agent should provide you with claims forms and arrange for an insurance adjuster to visit your property or look at your automobile,” Hudgens said.

The commissioner also urged those with damaged homes to be wary of contractors who demand upfront payments before work is initiated or want payment in full before the work is done. And be prepared to negotiate with an insurance company if you don’t think you’re getting a fair settlement.

“The department expects insurers to settle claims in a timely manner and work closely with the department to help individuals affected by this natural disaster,” Deputy Commissioner Jay Florence said.

If Georgians think they are getting the runaround from their company, Hudgens’ office has a consumer line set at 1-800-656-2298 and information at www.oci.ga.gov. The phone line is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays.

Allen said, depending on the damage and where it’s located, the commissioner’s office would likely set up “claims villages” in Atlanta and somewhere in South Georgia, such as Albany.

The villages would include claims officials from the 10 largest insurers in Georgia: Allstate, Auto Owners, Country Financial, Georgia Farm Bureau, Liberty Mutual, Nationwide, Safeco, State Farm, Travelers and USAA.

Insurers expect calls and emails as the wind dies down and the rain lets up.

“Claims adjusters and all necessary State Farm support members are on alert,” company spokesman Justin Tomczak said.

The company refers initial inquiries to a website with information for people facing storm damage.

For insurers, the pounding of Florida and now Georgia comes as a special challenge because residents in Houston and on the Texas coast are still coping with the massive flooding from Hurricane Harvey.

Allstate is readying a convoy of trucks in Mobile, Ala., that will head into Florida and Georgia once the storm has passed with experts in damage assessment, company spokesman Adam Polak said.

“They are ready to roll to help customers where they are needed,” he said. “Right now, we are still watching the weather on television and paying attention and waiting.”

In Texas, the company had 3,800 adjusters, many brought in from out of state. The company doesn’t have numbers here, but Georgia is a large source of business, Polak said.

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Staff writer Michael Kanell contributed to this article.