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U.S. insurers brace for hefty claims from Texas storm once thaw sets in

Feb 18 (Reuters) - U.S. property insurers are bracing for claims for damage from collapsing roofs, bursting pipes and lost business as Texas takes stock of its losses from a winter storm that has crippled its electrical grid.

Insurers’ losses could stretch into billions of dollars, said Moody’s analyst Jasper Cooper.

Insurers in Texas, the second-largest property insurance market among U.S. states, are used to grappling with historic storms, such as Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

But this winter storm is unique because of its grip across the state. It crippled the electric grid and left hundreds of thousands of homes without power for four days.

“You wouldn’t have a hurricane hit all of Texas,” Cooper said.

Texas insurers expect “hundreds of thousands of claims” said Camille Garcia, Insurance Council of Texas spokeswoman.

State Farm, the largest homeowners insurer in Texas as ranked by premiums collected, received “thousands” of claims this week for frozen-pipe damage compared with just 75 in Texas during 2020, said spokesman Chris Pilcic.

Hailey Binion in Richardson, Texas, and her family already called their insurer because of broken pipes that flooded their kitchen and living room, the 22-year-old student said.

That was after she spent several nights without power or heat, huddled with her parents, siblings and dog for warmth.

“It was tough and it was scary,” Binion said.

Hundreds of thousands of homes in Texas are facing a fourth day without heat on Thursday after utilities made some progress restoring power and the winter storm that crippled the electrical grid moved out of the state.

At present some 490,000 Texas households were without power, down from around 2.7 million on Wednesday, according to poweroutage.us, a website that tracks outages.

Commercial property claims are starting to trickle in at insurance broker Marsh, said Lori Freedman, Central Texas Claim Advisory Leader in Austin.

Most are for broken pipes, although Freedman is awaiting more details about roof damage, which will become apparent as ice thaws, she said.

The weather and outages have also disrupted supply lines across the states, leaving many businesses unable to function, said Austin policyholder lawyer Leslie Thorne, who has received 30 calls during the past three days from clients needing advice about coverage.

“It’s dire,” Thorne said. “We’re really hoping a lot of power is coming back on today.”

Reporting by Suzanne Barlyn in Washington Crossing, Pa. Editing by Matthew Lewis

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