Following a series of gas line explosions that rocked three communities in the Merrimack Valley area, insurance experts have cautioned affected homeowners to not only file their claims early, but to be careful and circumspect as well.
On September 13, several points on gas lines serviced by Columbia Gas suddenly erupted, causing explosions and as many as 80 building fires across the Massachusetts communities of Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover. About two dozen people were injured as a result of the disaster, while one Lawrence teenager was crushed and killed by a falling chimney knocked loose by an explosion.
Residents of the towns were asked to evacuate as local fire departments rushed to control the resulting flames. Utility lines were also disabled as officials and Columbia Gas worked to ascertain the nature of the explosions.
The state fire marshal’s office suspected that a “possible gas line over-pressurization” may have occurred, causing the blasts – a notion that the National Transportation Safety Board has recently confirmed after discovering a section of pipe owned by Columbia Gas burst after too much natural gas was pumped.
Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) vice-president Frank O’Brien told The Boston Globe that insurers were fielding calls on claims related to the disaster just hours after the incident.
“This is the type of event that people buy insurance for,” O’Brien remarked. “Through no fault of your own, you come home and your house is gone.”
O’Brien and other insurance experts have recommended a number of tips for affected homeowners to follow:
Do not return to your property until local and state officials have declared your property safe. “We may have a property damage claim,” O’Brien said. “We sure as heck don’t want a life insurance claim.”
Reach out to your insurance agent as soon as possible. American Insurance Association associate general counsel Jim Whittle added that homeowners should not panic if they lose any documents in the fire – they should not delay their claims and should contact their insurers regardless. Whittle also said that renters should ask their landlords about the insurance provider of their properties.
Insurers will need information, but do not worry about having to have all the documents ready following a fire. “Generally speaking, the companies understand this is a stressful time,” O’Brien explained. “Many people are not even going to have their policy number available. We get that.”
Try to limit further damage to the property; consider covering the damaged area with tarp.
Save receipts, even for non-home repair expenses such as hotel costs. “Document, document, document,” O’Brien urged.
Using your phone’s camera, take pictures and document the damage to your property.
Beware of “fly by night” contractors. “Take your time and be sure you have completely vetted your contractor,” suggested Florida State University professor of risk management and insurance Lynne McChristian, adding that homeowners should use a licensed contractor with a good reputation.