Thousands in St. Louis area claim hail damage

Tim West, a senior project manager with Olneya Restoration Group out of Maryland Heights, Mo., uses an iPad to take notes and photos of hail damage on the roof of a customer's home in Maryland Heights during an inspection on Thursday, May 17, 2012. Nearly three weeks after baseball-sized hail pelted St. Louis neighborhoods, smashing windshields and puncturing roofs, residents have filed tens of thousands of claims. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, David Carson)

Tim West, a senior project manager with Olneya Restoration Group out of Maryland Heights, Mo., uses an iPad to take notes and photos of hail damage on the roof of a customer's home in Maryland Heights during an inspection on Thursday, May 17, 2012. Nearly three weeks after baseball-sized hail pelted St. Louis neighborhoods, smashing windshields and puncturing roofs, residents have filed tens of thousands of claims. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, David Carson) Photo by The Associated Press.

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The number of insurance claims resulting from the damaging hail storm that struck the St. Louis region three weeks ago could top 100,000.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/KJCq3x) reported that the region's two largest insurance companies alone, State Farm and American Family, have fielded about 60,000 claims combined.

On April 28, strong storms swept through the area, and a wind gust knocked over a party tent at a downtown St. Louis bar, killing one man and injuring 100. Most of the region avoided wind damage, but not hail. Baseball-sized hail left pockmarks on cars and caused roofs to leak in some places, such as Maryland Heights.

Body shops are backed up for weeks, and contractors are going door-to-door in some neighborhoods.

Officials also are warning homeowners to watch out for scams, as Maryland Heights officials have already stopped one contractor for lying about the quality of shingles.

For legitimate companies, the storm created a bonanza of business. Auto Glass Xpress in Affton said it is still getting 200 to 300 calls a day, draining its supply of auto glass.

"We experienced a shortage, and ended up having to wait anywhere from three days to two weeks for glass," said office manager Nikki Nowlin. "Our glass man called in favors, contacted other warehouses and did whatever he could to get the glass so we wouldn't have to keep the customers waiting."

The storm-created business coupled with temporary financial assistance from insurance companies has resulted in short-term positive gains for the economy, said Howard Wall, director of the Institute for the Study of Economics and the Environment at Lindenwood University. But, he said, those benefits "wash out" in the long run.

"There is a net loss because the insurance rates will eventually increase to reflect the storm's damage," Wall said, also factoring in the insurance deductible and the time it takes to get homes and cars repaired.

Maryland Heights homeowner Dick Greenblatt recalled the night of the storm when he heard a noise that sounded like "horses running up and down the roof."

The hail left huge gashes in the white vinyl siding on the garage attached to his home. State Farm estimated the repair cost at more than $9,000. Now, his home is one of nine on the same street with a contractor's sign in the front yard.

Contractor James Smith of Olneya Restoration Group, working across the street from Greenblatt's home, said roof repair costs range from $8,000 to $40,000, depending on the size of the house.

The storm battered Olneya Restoration Group's own headquarters, leaving water pouring into every office.

"It's something that's beyond your control, like a death in the family," owner Crystal Anderson said. "It causes undue stress and all you want to do is get your house back to its original condition."


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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