Homeowners Seek $90M for Massachusetts Tornado Damage

By Johanna Kaiser | June 9, 2011

Homeowners in western Massachusetts have filed $90 million in insurance claims for damage caused by deadly tornadoes that ravaged Springfield and several smaller communities last week, state officials said Tuesday.

The state Division of Insurance estimate is the largest in recent memory from any natural disaster in the state, and the figure is expected to rise.

Barbara Anthony, undersecretary of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, said 5,000 claims for property damage have been filed. Only a few of those were for businesses, and many homeowners are still in the filing process.

“It’s a little premature to predict what the total will be or what the outcome will be at this time, but this is a big step,” Anthony said after touring Monson, one of the hardest hit communities.

Three tornadoes struck the area June 1, killing three people and injuring hundreds. Anthony’s office has set up field offices in Springfield, Southbridge, and Palmer to help residents file claims and answer questions about insurance policies and hiring contractors.

Many homes were damaged by fallen trees and while insurance companies cover damage caused by falling trees and removal of the tree, many residents weren’t sure if their insurance covers the removal of fallen trees that did not damage property, said Anthony.

“We’re hoping the claims will be paid and most damage will be covered,” she said.

Officials estimate more than 200 homes in the Springfield area were destroyed by the tornadoes. Two public schools in Springfield and one in Westfield were also severely damaged by the storms.

“We have a lot of empathy and we really want to be able to help,” said Katherine Craven, director of Massachusetts School Building Authority.

The authority, which reimburses school departments on a sliding scale for construction and building improvement projects, plans to partially reimburse the communities for repairs or rebuilding of the schools.

Funding for the agency comes from a percentage of the state sales tax. Its budget is separate from the state and local education budgets.

Craven said she hopes the agency’s funding can dovetail with federal aid.

The state must reach the threshold of $8.3 million in uninsured losses to receive federal aid. Federal emergency management teams began assessing the damage to homes and public infrastructure Monday to determine if the state qualifies for aid.

Gov. Deval Patrick has also filed a $52 million supplemental spending plan to help communities with relief efforts. The plan includes $10 million to help pay for last week’s emergency response.

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