Jane Pulcini was walking up the stairs in her Newington home Sunday about 11 a.m. when Tropical Storm Irene split an oak tree in her front yard, crashing a huge limb onto her roof.
"So, I'm going up the stairs, and I thought I heard thunder," said Pulcini, who said she has raised five sons in the house, where she lived with her husband, Guido "Guy" Pulcini, until he died a year and a half ago. "The noise was so loud, I just couldn't imagine what it was."
"Why couldn't the tree fall toward the street?" she asked.
By Tuesday, Scott Wallquist, a claims adjuster with The Travelers Cos., was walking on her roof, measuring the square footage and surveying the damage. Front and back gutters would need to be replaced, she would need a new roof and he plans to hire a inspector to see if the chimney is still intact.
"I would just like to see someone run a camera down that chimney," Wallquist said, adding that Travelers will hire a chimney expert to investigate, especially because it is connected to Pulcini's furnace. "In two months, once she turns the furnace on, we want it to work."
Wallquist is one of thousands of Travelers employees responding to damaged homes and businesses along the East Coast this week. After claims are called in or filed online, they are organized into geographical areas and prioritized for damage, he said. Adjusters have been busy this year with ice dams in the winter, tornadoes in the spring and now Irene. And forecasters are watching another storm that is strengthening in the eastern tropical Atlantic.
Property-casualty insurers have set up mobile response teams in Connecticut, New Jersey, Long Island and farther south, such as the Allstate and Travelers recreational vehicles in the Home Depot parking lot on Frontage Road in East Haven. The Travelers mobile unit, for example, has claims professionals, all the supplies to file claims, and even an IT guy to troubleshoot computer problems.
Travelers was the largest insurer of Connecticut homes last year with $127 million in written premiums, followed by Liberty Mutual Holding Co. ($124 million); Chubb Corp. ($118 million); Allstate ($109 million) and The Hartford Financial Services Group ($56.6 million), according to the most recent figures available by the Insurance Information Institute.
Allstate spokesman Chris Conner was at the mobile response RV parked in East Haven. He said he saw a Milford home that was partly crushed by a tree, although a woman who was sleeping on the first floor below was not harmed. He said Allstate, which has five mobile units across the East Coast, has seen the most damage in Connecticut in the southwest corner of the state along the I-95 corridor.
Inside the Travelers RV, claims handlers were meeting with homeowners. Insurers say Home Depot is a good spot because people who haven't already called in their claims — or filed via smartphone or the insurer's website — will see the mobile claims center as they buy supplies to fix their houses.
It also helps to have people on site.
"They want that person-to-person contact," said Nicole Wedall of Colchester, a Travelers claims professional.
She and fellow claims professional Rick Butera of Springfield said they have responded to tornadoes and all manner of other catastrophes in the mobile claims center. Although this year was busy, and property-casualty insurers have experienced unusually high losses on winter storms and tornadoes during the first half of the year, neither of them think they've been too busy.
"It's been the same every year," Wedall said. "Our business is kind of cyclical."
Insurers Respond To Claims With Mobile Units, Busy Adjusters
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