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Hurricane Ike Evacuees Allowed to Return to Galveston

Sep 24, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Residents of Galveston, Texas are being allowed to return home today, nearly two weeks after Hurricane Ike ravaged the Gulf Coast community.  But as they returned, Galveston's citizens were told to brace for the worst, as an estimated 75 percent of the city's homes are likely inhabitable. As they assess the damage, the will begin filing insurance claims.  Texas' insurance commissioner says close to 50,000 insurance claims have already been filed for Hurricane Ike.  That number will surely rise as more and more evacuees return home.  

Galveston, situated on island along the Texas Gulf Coast sustained a near-direct hit when Hurricane Ike made landfall on Sept. 13.  Roughly 45,000 of the city's 57,000 residents fled Galveston Island, along with hundreds of thousands more from other sections of the Texas coast.

As people returned, authorities were warning that Galveston was a "broken" city.  Infestations of snakes and other animals is a real concern.  Returnees were advised to have their tetanus shots updated, stock up on rat poisoning and keep children away.

Despite the dire warnings, media reports say highways into Galveston were jammed with cars today as many of the city's 57,000 citizens hurried back to see what, if anything, was left of their homes.

Insurance companies, already inundated with claims from Ike, were bracing for more.  Most insurers were advising policyholders that it could take between 2 and 7 days for an adjuster to visit their home.

Many of the people living in Galveston likely have windstorm insurance through the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, the insurer of last resort for 14 coastal counties in the state. Most private insurance companies stopped covering coastal properties after Hurricanes Rita and Katrina.

The association covers  142,566 policies in the six Texas counties hardest hit by Ike.  The amount of claims paid through the association depends on how much of the damage is determined to be wind-related.  Texas Windstorm Insurance Association policies do not cover flooding and most other water damage.   

Last week, the association's board voted to  collect an additional $430 million from Texas insurers to bolster claim reserves. According to The Houston Chronicle, the association’s $100 million base, along with part of a $500 million catastrophic reserve trust fund, were already used up paying for damage caused by Hurricane Dolly and Tropical Storm Edouard earlier in the summer. New assessments were needed because the wind pool had only $370 million in its fund.  Ultimately, Texas taxpayers will foot some of that bill because insurers can recoup about  $230 million through state tax credits.

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