Federal Assistance Approved for Oregon, Washington Counties

December 12, 2007

In storm-ravaged parts of the Northwest, home and business owners are beginning to file insurance claims — a process that could be complicated by whether severe winds or floods did the damage.

Insurers say they’ve received hundreds of claims, a small fraction of what they expect to see this week as people return to homes and businesses to assess their damage.

“It’s pretty bad (damage),” said Jerry Davies, spokesman for Farmers Insurance Group of Companies. “We’ve been on top of it and right now we’re looking pretty good.”

Parts of Oregon and Washington saw severe flooding, multiple deaths, lost power and communications and other major damage.

Homeowners insurance covers most wind damage. But coverage from flooding, earthquakes or landslides typically require separate policies.

Homeowners have to buy flood insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program. Although some mortgage companies require people to carry flood insurance if they live in a high-risk area, many people don’t have it.

Federal officials say many people fail to insure against flooding even though it is the top natural disaster.

“You don’t need to live in a flood plain to have flood insurance,” said Mike Howard, director of external affairs for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.

FEMA says there are more than 6,000 flood insurance policies, covering more than $1 billion, in the five Oregon counties President Bush declared a federal disaster.

In western Washington, which spans 14 counties, FEMA says there are more than 27,000 policies in place with more than $5 billion in coverage.

There is no official damage figure in Oregon yet. Initial assessments are expected this week.

Insurers and insurance trade groups and state officials say they haven’t seen insurance hurdles in the affected regions yet. Many insurance companies have catastrophe teams and mobile units on site to help victims.

Anyone who has damage is encouraged to contact an agent or insurer quickly and document damage with lists of lost or damaged items or with photographs.

They also should take reasonable step to prevent further damage.

The Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services has prohibited insurers from canceling or not renewing policies until January in the state’s five hardest-hit affected counties while people recover.

Companies typically handle the most serious claims first but it could take up to 90 days for assistance.

Federal assistance including money for temporary housing, jobless benefits, emergency food stamps and low-interest loans is available in some counties. People with damage are encouraged to contact FEMA at 1-800-621-FEMA to register, regardless of insurance.

Clatsop County, Ore., residents affected by the recent storms are now eligible for individual assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency following storms that struck the area in early December.

FEMA indicated counties deserving of disaster assisatance may be added to its list as damage assessments are completed.

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