Washington — Gov. Marc Racicot, president of the American Insurance Association (AIA), assured victims that the insurance industry would be focused on a quick response in assessing the damage and paying policyholder claims in the aftermath of the devastating tornadoes that have torn through Tennessee and other parts the South, during the past two days.

Several AIA member companies had already announced that the claims process had begun and that special mobile claims buses had been deployed directly to affected communities. 

"Having sent mobile units into devastated neighborhoods, insurers have established immediate lines of aid and a strong presence in the wake of these disastrous tornadoes," Racicot said.

Insurers have reportedly followed through. Los Angeles-based Farmers Insurance Group of Cos. mobilized additional claims personnel to the areas impacted by the recent tornadoes in Tennessee. Farmers employees and agents also have set up a relief center in Nashville.

As of Feb. 6, 2008, Farmers has received more than 100 claims in Tennessee.

"As soon as the tornadoes hit, Farmers began anticipating ways we could help our customers," says Betsy Nealon, state executive director of Farmers Insurance in Tennessee.

The Farmers Mobile Catastrophe Claims Center Bus is a rolling customer support center equipped with technology for immediate claims handling.

Hartford, Conn.-based Travelers mobilized its Catastrophe Response Unit, including sending four Mobile Claim Headquarters to areas in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. The vehicles are strategically positioned to best serve customers needing urgent service, according to Travelers. The additional resources will help to expedite the claim process by supporting the local claim professionals based in the area.

The Mobile Claim Headquarters are custom-built RVs staffed by catastrophe response team members, and equipped with onboard computers and databases, printers, photocopiers, cell phones and fax machines. Each vehicle has its own generator, so they can operate in places without electricity and process claims through wireless or satellite connectivity if landlines are not available.

"Travelers has claim professionals in the area, already assisting affected customers with their initial recovery efforts," says Ray Stone, VP of Catastrophe Operations for Travelers. "We have mobilized the Mobile Claim Headquarters and additional claim professionals to help our customers with the support needed to get back on their feet and return to their normal routine as soon as possible."

Travelers is providing affected customers with claim services including checks or Claim cards, personalized debit cards for instant access to cash, to cover immediate needs for food, clothing and shelter.

Seattle-based Safeco Insurance Cos. claims professionals are on the ground helping customers in the area of Jackson, Tenn., recover. Safeco team members, including Eric Martinez, Safeco executive VP of claims, traveled hard-hit areas to meet face-to-face with policyholders. "We've been making proactive calls to our customers asking if they need any assistance in filing their claims," says Martinez. "While other companies wait for calls from claimants, we're actively calling our customers to make sure they're alright. We're paying claims and putting people in housing. I'm proud of our efforts to help Safeco customers recover from this tragic event."

The Safeco Insurance Foundation also has donated $15,000 to the Red Cross in Jackson to help with the recovery efforts.

"The wounds left by tornadoes of this magnitude are difficult to fully heal, but our industry is committed to a rapid and focused response to these tragic storms,&am ;am ;qu t; says AIA's Racicot.

The President declared a major disaster exists in the State of Tennessee and ordered Federal aid to supplement State and local recovery efforts in the area struck by severe storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds and flooding during the past week.

The President's action makes Federal funding available to affected individuals in the counties of Hardin, Macon, Madison, Shelby and Sumner.

Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.

Federal funding also is available to State and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis in the counties of Hardin, Macon, Madison, Shelby and Sumner for debris removal and emergency protective measures.

Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

R. David Paulison, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named Gracia Szczech as the Federal Coordinating Officer for Federal recovery operations in the affected area.

FEMA said that damage surveys are continuing in other areas, and more counties and additional forms of assistance may be designated after the assessments are fully completed in the affected areas.

Sources: American Insurance Association, Farmers Insurance Group of Cos., The Travelers Companies Inc. and Business Wire

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