Hundreds Victim to California Rainstorms

Following a series of powerful storms that brought heavy, record-setting rain, snow and high winds to California, insurers report their employees are on-hand to help victims. Meanwhile, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proclaimed a state of emergency in Kern, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo and Tulare counties due to the extreme weather and storm conditions.

Virtually the entire Golden State has been affected by storms that began Dec. 18, dumping moisture from far Northern California south to San Diego. More than 12 inches of rain fell in parts of the Santa Monica mountains in the south, and 13 feet of snow has accumulated at Mammoth Mountain ski resort. Downtown Los Angeles reported receiving 5 1/4 inches of rain since the storms started, more than one-third of the average annual precipitation.

Several areas were left without power as a result of the storms — nearly 21,000 in the south, according to Southern California Edison spokeswoman Vanessa McGrady. The hardest-hit area was the city of Torrance, south of Los Angeles, with more than 4,600 outages, she said.

Although no one was hurt, a 20-mile stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway between Malibu and Oxnard was closed after a rock and mudslide occurred on Dec. 19.

In the Wrightwood area, about 15 people were evacuated after the Sheep Creek Wash overflowed and threatened homes, the San Bernardino County Fire Department told the Los Angeles Times. At least three homes there sustained water damage.

State Farm Insurance, one of California’s leading insurers of homes and vehicles, said hundreds of its agents, agents’ staff members, local claim representatives and members of State Farm Catastrophe Services have been assisting policyholders. As of Dec. 22, the insurer had received more than 1,600 claims.

Most of the claims were leaky roofs, fallen trees and the like, according to Sevag Sarkissian, public affairs specialist. Sarkissian said although the claims are spread across California, there appear to be a greater concentration in Southern California.

Farmers Insurance, also said its claims teams were in “full operation” helping customers throughout the state. To date, the company has received a total of 1,544 property claims due to wind and rain. Jerry Davies, assistant vice president for media and public relations in North America, said of those claims, 1,254 were property claims; 73 were commercial property claims; and 216 were specialty claims.

The Automobile Club of Southern California on Dec. 20 dispatched more calls for roadside assistance than ever before in a 24-hour period. More than 25,000 Auto Club members received help with stuck cars, dead batteries and flooded engines – nearly a 14 percent increase over the last highest day, which was Oct. 9, 2008 during a heat wave when the Auto Club dispatched 22,000 calls for service, the company said.

The state Department of Insurance has suggested customers contact their insurers if they suffer damage.

Schwarzenegger said in a statement that “these severe storms are causing harm to people and property, flooding homes and infrastructure, damaging public and private facilities, closing roads and highways, and requiring emergency response and debris clean-up. Flood conditions caused by these storms are causing the evacuation of residents and the opening of emergency shelters.”

Thus, his state of emergency proclamation will allow all agencies of the state government to use and employ state personnel, equipment and facilities for the performance of any and all recovery activities consistent with the direction of the California Emergency Management Agency (Cal EMA) and the State Emergency Plan, and that Cal EMA provide local government assistance under the authority of the California Disaster Assistance Act.

The wet weather is expected to extend into Arizona and Nevada, according to National Weather Service reports. Those state Insurance Departments are alerting consumers to be aware of flood potential and make sure they are properly insured.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.