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State Farm employee Jason Dodd, above left, gives a vehicle damage check to Christy Kisor, seated left, at the temporary Catastrophe tent in front of the Fort Oglethorpe Lowe's store Tuesday. Mary Norris, seated right, watches as Auto Estimatics Inspector Steve Campbell, above hood, assesses tree damage on her 2003 Saturn Vue. Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Dennis Plumlee, owner of the North Chatt Cat, was surprised last Wednesday to see a tree bisecting his house.

"You could probably build another house out of all the lumber in that tree," Plumlee said Tuesday as he sat in his restaurant a week later, nursing a set of cracked ribs.

He injured his side when he threw himself into bed the evening after the storm hit - only the mattress wasn't where he left it. Movers and repairmen had removed his bed from the house to save it from water damage.

Plumlee's home for the foreseeable future is the Residence Inn in downtown Chattanooga. It's from there that he confers on the phone with Teresa Peterson, his agent with Travelers Insurance who has quickly answered his calls and agreed to cover most damages.

Working with Peterson has been "the best insurance experience I've ever dealt with," he said.

But not everyone has been that enamored.

Doug Anderson hasn't seen or heard from anyone at his insurance company in seven days, despite repeated calls. He too uses Travelers Insurance.

Anderson got on the phone, however, a representative from California.

"I thought to myself, how in the hell is he going to evaluate damage to my property from California," the 65-year-old retiree said.

Two trees fell on his Hixson residence, in which he has been living for the past week.

"I understand that we have a lot of damage in Hamilton County, and I am being as patient as I possibly can," he said. "I called back to the claim number at Travelers and was told that someone would contact me within 48 hours. Now it's been seven days."

Mobile Units

Insurance companies responding to thousands of storm-related claims say they know they can't get to everyone in the traditional way.

As a result, Travelers has set up a mobile unit in Chattanooga; Allstate has sent mobile claim centers to Ringgold, Ga.; Cleveland, Tenn.; and Trenton, Ga.; and State Farm plans this morning to move its unit from Ft. Oglethorpe to Ringgold, said agent Patrick Brown.

"At the mobile units, we can help them with a claim form, of if they need advances for living expenses or getting trees off the homes, we can get them payments," he said.

Between manning the converted recreational vehicle and striking out on his own to visit customers at home, Brown said he had already seen hundreds of policyholders since last week's storms struck the region.

He plans to be even busier today in the First Baptist Church parking lot in Ringgold.

"It's been pretty bad; we have a lot of trees down and some homes totaled," he said.


The total number of claims and costs of the storm may not be fully known for some time.

Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens said damage had reached $75 million in his state so far, but that number is likely to climb.

State Farm, which insures about one in four Tennesseans, said it has received 19,311 auto claims so far in the state, including about 5,000 originating from the Chattanooga area.

The company has set up a temporary auto inspection facility on Chapman Road in Chattanooga and on Shadowtown Road in Blountville.

Claims from homeowners, too, continue to climb, currently standing at nearly 14,000 in Tennessee.

"We are seeing our most severe losses first and will continue seeing losses until every claim has been addressed," said spokeswoman Judy McConkey.

In Alabama, State Farm reported 4,500 auto claims and about 9,700 homeowner claims. In Georgia, about 1,000 State Farm policyholders have reported auto damage, with a further 2,300 reporting damage to their dwellings, the company said.

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