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Commissioner expects tens of thousands of post-storm claims

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — The hail storm that hit Mississippi could result in 35,000 to 50,000 insurance claims for automobile and property damage, Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney says.

Chaney said the numbers are based on information provided by insurers, but he declined to speculate on a dollar figure because the claims could range from a couple hundred dollars for a windshield to much more.

Chaney said the most damage was in the Jackson metro area, from the city of Clinton east along Interstate 20 into Rankin County. Chaney said there also was a significant amount of damage in Warren County.

The hail pounded cars and houses, breaking windows and causing significant amounts of roof damage.

The storms left damage in at least 18 counties, though some of that is trees knocked down by strong wind, said Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Jeff Rent.

State Sen. Dean Kirby said that based on previous storms and the estimates of how many claims there will be for this storm alone — 35,000 to 50,000 — he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the damage reached $100 million. Kirby, a Pearl Republican, has been in the insurance business for years.

Jim Rowles, who works in claims for Farm Bureau Insurance, said most of his company’s claims have been in Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties. Rowles said another group of claims was coming in from Pike and Lincoln counties.

Authorities say it’s too early to know exactly how many structures were damaged, but it appears to be widespread in parts of Jackson and its suburbs.

In Rankin County, Emergency Operations Director Bob Wedgeworth said more than 100 homes were damaged in one subdivision alone.

“So far, we’ve got considerable damage. It seems to be pretty widespread,” Wedgeworth said.

One person was treated for minor injuries and released from the University of Mississippi Medical Center after being hit by hail, said spokesman Jack Mazurak.

Lovett Elementary School in Clinton was closed Tuesday and would remain closed on Wednesday due to severe damage. About 350 sixth-graders are being sent to other schools, officials said.

“The roof was so badly damaged that there were leaks in almost every classroom,” said Sandi Beason, spokesman for the Clinton Public School District.

Chaney said there was damage at the state fire academy. The hail also broke windows at the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield and caused a little damage at Brandon High School, authorities said.

The Mississippi Highway Patrol and Jackson Police Department each reported damage to more than 60 cars.

Other law enforcement agencies and first responders in Jackson and its suburbs reported damage to cars, including MEMA and the state fire marshal’s office.

The hail storm was caused by cold temperatures in the atmosphere and unstable air, said Marc McCallister, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jackson.

“It was such a downdraft that the hail didn’t melt very much on the way to the ground,” he said. “I think it’s been about 20 years — back in the ’90s — since we had a storm like this.”

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