Broker: Northeast, like tropics, now a storm zone

UPDATE: A week after Hurricane Sandy flooded the Jersey Shore and the edges of New York Harbor, "the claims keep rolling in," says Michael Tiagwad, boss at Philadelphia- and Marlton-based Conner Strong & Buckalew, a national insurance brokerage for businesses and local governments. "With all the disruption, particularly in central and north Jersey, we have some major accounts where we haven’t been able to contact key people."

Conner Strong braced itself for this storm, which cut power to 2 of its 5 offices. The firm prepared with remote call center. Clients were more ready, too: "I’m surprised how many people and households do have generators. I’m sure it was because of their experience last year. Plenty of places people were out of power for a week," Tiagwad said. Not over yet: In North Jersey, "Rumson and Brick are talking about another week without power."

So, has the Northeast joined storm-prone Florida and Tornado Alley as the kind of place where roofs are expected to blow off and power routinely goes out for days at a time? "More and more, our national clients, people who have installations in locations on the Gulf [of Mexico], where they are ready to spring right into action? The same customers have facilities in this area. Until recently the diligence wasn’t the same. But now they are; they see it really is widespread. Our weather seems more extreme."

How are insurers coping? "Major carriers like Chubb and Travelers and Zurich and Chartis have the lions’s share of this business. They’ve all been proactive. That's something else I haven’t seen before: we got notices on the leadership of each of those companies, catastrophe claims, phone numbers. People are realizing, in an area like New York or Philadelphia, where decision makers are, that bad things don't only happen in remote areas anymore.. This has resonated, that it can happen here." 

EARLIER: Hurricane Sandy provoked "twice as many claims" from business and local-government clients of Marlton, NJ-based insurance boker Conner Strong & Buckelew, of Philadelphia and Marlton, vs. Hurricane Irene last year, says Mike Tiagwad, chief executive.

Tiaghwad expects a "dramatic" increase -- up to 4x last year's claims -- as more Shore property owners return to flooded and wrecked properties. It was a bigger storm, that hit harder, on higher tides, in a more-populous area.  Most of the claims have been for flood damages, with others for wind and fire.

The biggest dollar exposure is expected to follow "business interruption" claims, once companies figure how much they've lost due to road closures, power failures, fuel, client and customer disruptions.

Conner Strong chairman George Norcross is an owner of the Inquirer.