Insurers, roofers scrambling in the aftermath of fierce hailstorm; Ladonia, Smiths Station hit hard, with numerous homes and autos damaged

tadams@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 20, 2013 

The fierce thunderstorm that rolled through Monday evening left a sporadic path of homes and cars battered by hail in the Columbus and Phenix City area, with insurers and roofers scrambling in its aftermath.

“I’ve got some customers where their car was possibly considered totaled,” Phenix City Allstate agent Dexter Walden said Wednesday, explaining the Ladonia area in Phenix City and Smiths Station appeared to have taken the brunt of the storm, which generated heavy rain, wind, hail and frequent bolts of lightning.

“Of course, there’s a lot of roof damage on homes,” said the agent, whose office had fielded more than 60 claims on Tuesday and at least 20 Wednesday. “But I’ve got some customers that have vinyl siding, or that hardy board, and there are just holes. It looks like somebody just stepped back about 100 yards with a shotgun with buckshot, and started shooting at their house.”

The thunderstorm — which pounded portions of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia — was extreme enough that Allstate declared the area a “catastrophe,” Walden said, meaning there was enough damage that it hit the corporate radar, with the possibility of a mobile claims unit being dispatched to the area.

Hail ranging from the size of a pea to that as big as a baseball were reported in both Phenix City and in Columbus, coating some residents’ lawns. It took a sporadic approach, with some areas of the metro area getting hit hard, while others saw nothing but rain and wind.

Danny Renfroe, owner of Columbus-based Danny Renfroe’s Roofing, said he fielded calls from as far away as north Harris County and Meriwether County, but his focus the last couple of days has been in the Ladonia and Smiths Station areas.

“It’s pretty widespread over there in Lee County,” he said. “There are several (homes) I roofed about a year ago that got hammered. A lady over there showed me stuff baseball-sized that hit her house. We had put an architectural shingles on it. Normally it won’t hurt them. They’re pretty durable.”

Renfroe described seeing photos taken by homewoners showing hail about two inches deep on their driveway, creating the effect of snow. He witnessed himself — while on rooftops — shingles that had been peppered and lost granules. Some were worse, with the large chunks of ice bursting through the face of the shingle.

The roofer, who has about 20 people working for him, estimated it could take six months or longer for the insurance process and repairs to be made to all of the homes damaged in the area.

He and other insurers cautioned homeowners that there likely could be a flurry of less-reputable work crews moving through subdivisions and knocking on doors, looking to cash in on the storm damage. Checking with the Better Business Bureau or on the website, Angie’s List, is a good idea.

“I’m not beating on nobody’s door,” Renfroe said. “I don’t solicit. If they want me, they call and I’ll go look at it.”

Allstate agent David Askew in Columbus also warned local consumers to beware of the door-to-door repairmen. Instead, they should call their insurance agent or a reputable roofing company to take a look at their home or auto.

He also advised policyholders to contact their specific agent instead of the insurance company’s customer-service hotline, if at all possible. “If they call the company directly without consulting an agent or without calling a reputable roofer, the insurance company’s going to open up a claim,” he said. “And there is a possibility — whether there is a claim (to be paid) or not a claim — they could lose some discounts.”

Askew said the bulk of calls his office received Tuesday and Wednesday were from the Pine Mountain, Ga., area north of Columbus. He lives in Midland, but did not see any hail himself. There were a high number of auto claims, however, with an employee currently processing drive-in claims every 45 minutes and scheduled to do so an extra day this week.

Finally, Askew said those considering filing a claim should know their policy’s deductible. Many in recent years have been raised from $500 to $1,000. If the damage is a few hundred dollars, there’s no need to file the claim, with repairs coming out of the homeowner’s pocket.

Beyond that, Askew and other insurance agents in the Chattahoochee Valley will be hoping that Mother Nature skips this area for awhile.

“Every time we get a storm warning, we hold our breath,” he said.

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