ATLANTA - A cluster of tornadoes that killed 15 people in northwest Georgia inflicted at least $75 million in insured property losses, State Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens said Monday.
The commissioner said he expects the preliminary tally of damage caused by the 15 tornadoes that crossed the state starting Wednesday will grow as homeowners and businesses file claims in the coming days. Immediately after the storm, authorities in some hard-hit areas had discouraged residents and insurance adjustors from visiting damaged homes and properties so emergency crews could search for victims, clear debris and fix downed power lines.
"We know this number will grow," Hudgens said.
The strongest tornado struck Ringgold with 175 mph winds. It killed eight people there, reduced fast food restaurants and gas stations to heaps of rubble and destroyed at least 75 homes, according to surveys from the National Weather Service. President Barack Obama has issued a disaster declaration for 16 counties in Georgia.
Besides compiling a preliminary damage estimate, Hudgens signed a nonbinding request asking insurers to exercise leniency with policyholders in northwest Georgia whose premium payments are late because of disrupted mail service and the destruction of homes. While his request does not carry the force of law, Hudgens' office regulates the insurance industry in the state.
"It's kind of hard to find your checkbook when your house has been destroyed," he said.
Hudgens said he has sent staff from his office to Trenton and Ringgold to help residents file insurance claims.
Other tornadoes have caused heavier losses in insured property. A tornado that struck Americus in 2007 caused an estimated insurance loss of $210 million, which then-state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine called at the time a record for a disaster of its type. That storm affected nine counties and left nine people dead.