BLOOMINGTON — As Hurricane Irma was barreling at 150 mph toward the Florida peninsula on Friday, Bloomington's two major insurers were gearing up to handle the storm's impact on homes, businesses and autos.

"With the largest catastrophe response team in the industry, State Farm is confident in its ability to respond to Irma should it make landfall in the United States," said State Farm spokeswoman Missy Dundov.

Country Financial has moved its storm team, including 50 employees from Illinois, into place in Georgia and Alabama to handle initial contacts with customers, said the company. 

"While it's too early to know the exact path of Hurricane Irma, we are getting all of our teams and resources ready so we can immediately serve our customers if the hurricane hits Georgia," said John Butkus, director of property claims for Country Financial.

Country does not issue auto or property policies in Florida.

Hurricane Irma was set to hit Florida as early as Saturday, as recovery efforts continue in Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey's devastation.

State Farm has received about 71,000 home and auto claims as a result of Hurricane Harvey in Texas.

"While there may be two major recovery efforts taking place simultaneously, we have one focus and that is helping our customers when they need us most," she added.

On Friday, Irma had weakened from a Category 5 to a Category 4 hurricane, but with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph it remained one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Irma's impact could be worse than the devastation from Hurricane Andrew in August 1992, which was one of the costliest hurricanes with damages of $26.5 billion.

Comparing the two storms is difficult, "because each storm presents its own unique challenges and characteristics," said Dundov.

"It’s also too premature to arrive at expense or claim comparisons since it hasn't made landfall yet."

Florida's history of significantly damaging storms has led many insurers to reduce their risk exposure, "in order to maintain financial strength to serve remaining customers," said Dundov. "State Farm has been among insurers reducing property insurance in Florida since 1992's Hurricane Andrew."

In 2016 in Florida, State Farm had the third-largest share, 6.6 percent, of the homeowners' insurance market and the second-largest share, 16.2 percent, of the private passenger vehicle market, according to the Insurance Information Institute's website.

Follow Maria Nagle on Twitter: @Pg_Nagle



Reporter for The Pantagraph.

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