* Number of fatalities, damage still being assessed
* 17,000 claims adjusters working in Alabama
* Estimate on insured losses may be ready Monday (Adds quotes, other damage details)
By Verna Gates
MONTGOMERY, Ala., May 4 (Reuters) - Insured losses in Alabama from last week’s devastating tornadoes in the U.S. South are expected to exceed the state’s $2 billion losses from Hurricane Ivan in 2004, a state official said on Wednesday.
“This is the worst disaster dollar-wise. Ivan was a lot different but this is more difficult,” Alabama Insurance Commissioner Jim Ridling said at a news conference after meeting executives from leading insurance companies who are assessing the damage to the state.
Alabama and six other Southern states are counting the cost of the United States’ second deadliest tornado outbreak on record. It destroyed whole neighborhoods and killed more than 330 people, more than 230 of them in Alabama alone.
Ridling said Alabama suffered the majority of the $2 billion to $5 billion insured losses broadly estimated for all of the affected states by one disaster risk modeler, EQECAT.
“In all my years in the insurance industry I have never seen anything so violent and widespread,” he said. “There’s not a lot of minor damage -- it was either destroyed or left alone.”
He said that unlike approaching hurricanes, which allowed some time for emergency preparations, the racing, dipping twisters that struck a week ago allowed far less advance warning. “There was no lead time,” Ridling said.
Some 17,000 insurance claims adjusters had been given badges so far to process claims in the state. They were working with GPS satellite technology to confirm the location of homes that had been leveled and scattered .
Ridling and Alabama Governor Robert Bentley were reluctant to give a more precise figure for the state’s insured losses, saying evaluation of the damage, as well as an overall fatality figure, was continuing.
“I wish we could give you numbers ... We don’t know yet the amount of houses (destroyed) or the monetary value,” Bentley said. “We’re trying to assess that now.”
Ridling said he hoped an insured losses estimate for the state could be given on Monday.
EQECAT had cited reports of nearly 10,000 buildings destroyed across all affected states. Alabama emergency officials had previously given a death toll for the state of 236, but have been double-checking the figures.
President Barack Obama, who last week visited the wrecked Alabama college city of Tuscaloosa, has pledged full federal support to help the storm-battered South recover from the worst U.S. natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Katrina caused $1 billion in insured losses to Alabama, while Ivan the previous year had inflicted $2 billion in losses, state insurance officials said.
Georgia, another state hit by the tornadoes but far less so than Alabama, earlier this week estimated the cost of insured losses from the storms at $75 million, according to the state insurance department. [ID:nN02238999]
Alabama’s debt-ridden Jefferson County, which is struggling to avoid declaring what would be the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, has put the cost of its debris clean-up alone at $400 million. [ID:nN03296731]
Obama has signed major disaster declarations for Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia.
The death toll from last week’s swarm of tornadoes was the second highest inflicted by tornadoes in U.S. history. In 1925, 747 people were killed after twisters hit the U.S. Midwestern states of Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.
The 3,200-megawatt Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama likely will remain shut for two to three weeks while damaged transmission lives are repaired. [ID:nN03112491]
The state’s poultry industry, the No. 3 U.S. chicken producer, also suffered from the tornadoes. [ID:nN03110904] (Reporting by Verna Gates; Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Bill Trott)