* Losses include housing and commercial damages, others
* Storm outbreak was second deadliest in U.S. history (Updates with comments from HUD secretary, dateline previously MIAMI)
By Verna Gates
BIRMINGHAM, Ala., May 9 (Reuters) - Tornadoes and storms that struck the U.S. South last month caused insured property and automobile losses of between $3.7 billion and $5.5 billion, catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide said on Monday.
The estimate reflected physical damage to residential, commercial and industrial properties and their contents and damage to automobiles, living expenses for people displaced from their homes, and business interruption claims.
Boston-based AIR cited an estimated death toll from the April 22-28 storms of 354 people across seven states and said thousands had been left homeless when entire neighborhoods were flattened.
It was the second deadliest severe thunderstorm outbreak in U.S. history, after the Tri-State tornado outbreak of 1925.
Another catastrophe modeling company, EQECAT, had previously estimated insured property losses from last month’s devastating storms at between $2 billion to $5 billion.
Alabama bore the brunt of the damage with local state insurance officials estimating it would exceed the state’s $2 billion losses from Hurricane Ivan in 2004. [ID:nN04238407]
The last four months have been some of the toughest for the insurance industry in history. Aside from the deadly U.S. tornadoes, insurers have been confronted with earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand and flooding in Australia, among other multibillion-dollar events.
However, the tornadoes losses estimates announced so far would not make the all-time top 10 for the United States.
In a visit to Alabama on Monday, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan announced plans to help some of the state’s hardest hit areas by bringing forward federal assistance funds under a program known as the Community Development Block Grant.
Alabama will receive $26 million that can be used for infrastructure and housing projects. The funds were originally scheduled to be released later this year.
“People are sleeping on couches or floors, we want to get them housing and assistance as soon as possible,” Donovan said. (Additional reporting by Pascal Fletcher and Ben Berkowitz; Editing by Leslie Adler)