Arctic cold causes estimated $75 million in insured losses in Georgia

lfabian@macon.comJanuary 14, 2014 

As Middle Georgia braces for another bout of winter cold, some people are only beginning to realize the extent of damage from last week’s deep freeze.

Two buildings at the Hepzibah Children’s Home in northwest Bibb County sustained major damage from busted pipes.

“We’re not built for 40-year cold. Most places down here aren’t,” said Hepzibah Executive Director Peter Bagley.

Preliminary damage estimates run up to $50,000 in two homes on the campus.

Walls, ceilings, baseboards, insulation, flooring and carpet need to be replaced due to water damage.

Statewide, an estimated $75 million in insured losses has been reported to Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, who released preliminary numbers Tuesday.

At Hepzibah, Bagley said they were fortunate that more pipes did not break as many of the buildings were built with similar plans.

In the Early Childhood Teen Parent Center on Jan. 8, a worker heard something snap on the upper floor.

“She went upstairs and saw something was not right and when she was backing away the ceiling collapsed,” Bagley said.

Water rushing from the broken sprinkler system flooded multiple floors in the house where young mothers learn to care for their children.

A maintenance worker discovered another busted pipe in the attic of Elizabeth House for pregnant teens. No one was staying in the newly renovated bedroom below the leak, but water gushed out into the long hallway of the building that also houses a couple of staff apartments.

Damage is widespread across Middle Georgia, said Rodney McCart, owner of ServiceMaster by Peach State Restoration.

“It’s like the Mother’s Day Storm, except water,” McCart said. “That’s how our work oad has been.”

McCart ran out of equipment about three hours after temperatures started rising above freezing and leaks were discovered about a week ago.

He purchased $45,000 in new drying equipment and had to rent more from franchises farther south.

“People aren’t really aware how strained all these companies are,” McCart said. “We don’t as residents see the destruction because everything is on the inside.”

His company worked until midnight most of last week and kept working through the weekend, he said.

McCart got calls late last week from rural churches where busted pipes went undiscovered for days.

People who own vacation homes or hunting cabins might not realize they have a problem, which means the $75 million estimate could be the tip of the iceberg.

“That figure may rise as new claims are reported,” Hudgens said in a news release. “The damage was quite extensive in some northern counties.”

Temperatures in Middle Georgia are expected to plunge into the 20s on Thursday through Monday, but that shouldn’t pose a problem since the mercury will rebound to the upper 40s to low 50s during the day.

Last week’s combination of temperatures in the teens and the duration of sub-freezing temperatures triggered disaster.

“This is the first time I’ve seen it like this in this area,” said McCart, who has spent 20 years in the insurance and restoration businesses.

In Macon, the temperature dropped to a record low of 11 degrees on the morning of Jan. 7 and stayed below freezing all day until plunging to a record low of 12 degrees the next day.

State estimates on the cost of freeze damage only consider property damage to homes and businesses, not damage to agriculture interests or municipalities that might have suffered broken water mains, said Glenn Allen, spokesman for Commissioner Hudgens.

Anyone with questions about an insurance claim is urged to call the Consumer Services Division of the insurance commissioner’s office at 800-656-2298.

The line is open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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