Tenn. Survivors, Officials Pick through Ruins, Estimate Storm Damage

February 13, 2008

As victims, emergency officials and insurance adjusters picked through the remnants of Tennessee homes destroyed by last week’s fatal storms, a better estimate of the extent of damage across the state has been reached.

In Macon County, search and rescue teams made sure everyone was accounted for by the end of the weekend, reaching the final number of fatalities at 13 with another four people still in critical condition.

About 429 homes were damaged with more than half uninhabitable, said Keith Scruggs, emergency management director of Macon County.

Scruggs said the preliminary estimate of residential damage alone is $78 million, saying the damage was “catastrophic for a county this size.”

Madison County officials are also looking at costs associated with a tornado that tore through Union University in Jackson and killed two in the community of Denmark.

County Mayor Jimmy Harris said $1 million of the general fund may be used to cover cleanup costs until reimbursement comes from the federal government, The Jackson Sun reported.

After the first line of the storms moved into Memphis on Feb. 5, more that 64,000 residential and business customers were left without power in the wake of the storm.

Memphis Light, Gas and Water estimates the damage to the utility’s infrastructure to be about $6.5 million, which includes a severely damaged power substation along with downed power lines and utility poles, said utility spokesman Richard Thompson.

Electricity has been restored in Memphis, but some damage on private property may remain that is affecting service, he said.

Statewide figures for damages and costs may take more time to assess as the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency gets updates from each county.

Tennessee Farm Bureau Insurance has received more than 4,000 property claims statewide, but a dollar figure for the cost of those claims was still being calculated, said spokesman Dan Batey. About 150 property claims so far are total losses as of Monday, he said.

The number of claims is still low compared to severe storms and tornadoes that hit the state in April 2006, Batey said. Farm Bureau Insurance estimated the 2006 storm damages cost about $156 million from a total of 23,000 claims.

“These numbers are not that large, but it’s going to be high – in the $100 million range,” he said.

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