West explosion damage could reach $100 million

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Posted: Thursday, April 25, 2013 12:01 am | Updated: 9:19 am, Thu Apr 25, 2013.

Damage costs could reach $100 million for homes and property destroyed by the West Fertilizer Co. plant explosion, according to a state insurance trade group.

Mark Hanna, spokesman for the Insurance Council of Texas, said numbers could fluctuate as insurance adjusters continue assessing the homes, buildings and vehicles damaged by the blast.

West Mayor Pro Tem Steve Vanek estimated 350 homes were damaged by the explosion, which also caused 
15 deaths. That figure includes both houses that suffered minor exterior damage and homes that were completely leveled or destroyed.

Hanna said the last natural disasters in Texas included hailstorms in April and June of 2011 that rained baseball-sized hail over downtown Dallas. The incidents caused $750 million and 
$900 million in damages, respectively.

“It’s hard to compare a hailstorm to what happened in West,” Hanna said. “West was a true catastrophe, because there were lives that were lost, many people injured, many people who are without their home or apartment today.”

Brian Hoback, the National Response Team supervisor for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, described the blast site like a puzzle.

“Right now, think of that coffee table where all 100 pieces are gathered around,” Hoback said, according to pool report of a tour of the blast site. “Now, we’re going to pull them 
together.”

Assistant State Fire Marshal Kelly Kistner said from looking at the blast pattern, it appears most of the blast went west of the fertilizer plant toward an apartment complex and the nearby neighborhood where nearly 200 people were injured, according to the report. The blast site features a 96-foot-wide by 10-foot-deep crater.

Law enforcement officials have allowed some West residents to enter two of the three home zone 
areas impacted by the explosion, but adjusters have not had access to the 
full region.

“Even in some of the second zone, the adjusters were not able to get out of the car to go into the home, they could only take pictures from the road,” Hanna said. “Once they actually get to see the inside of the home, the process is going to get moving pretty rapidly.”

Hanna did not know how many total claims have been filed by affected residents. He said State Farm, the largest insurance provider in the state, had about 50 home insurance cases filed.

Farmers Insurance has had 69 claims filed from the affected area, two-thirds of which were home insurance claims, according to company spokesman Mark Toohey.

Allstate, which like State Farm and Farmers had teams of agents and claims adjusters in West last week to help residents start the filing process, did not have an estimate available, company spokesman Bill Mellander said.

Some displaced residents already have received 
additional living expense checks from the insurance companies that range from $2,500 to $10,000.

Hanna said the American Red Cross has assisted around 180 families, including offering a month of rental assistance to find new housing. Those residents most likely were uninsured, he said.

Guarding against fraud

Jerry Hagins, spokesman for the Texas Department of Insurance, said the agency has about 18 staff members in West to answer residents’ insurance questions. The group also is offering homeowners tips on guarding against fraud.

For example, Hagins said residents should have their insurance adjuster perform the initial damage estimate on the home instead of accepting unsolicited offers from contractors to do the assessments.

Homeowners also should look up potential contractors’ references before hiring them for renovations, as well as ask to see workers’ employee badge before allowing them to enter the home.

The insurance agency also advises residents not to sign a contract that has blank fields, and to only pay a contractor once the work is completed.

“Anytime there’s a disaster, it brings out the best in people, but sometimes it also brings out some of the shadier characters,” 
Hagins said.

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