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Economy12 hours ago (Feb 19, 2021 06:45PM ET)

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Residents line up to enter shelter after record-breaking winter temperatures in Galveston, Texas

By Suzanne Barlyn

(Reuters) – Insurers could suffer record first-quarter catastrophe losses after the historic Texas winter storm, which crippled the state’s electrical grid and caused extensive property damage including collapsed roofs and broken pipes, insurer credit rating agency A.M. Best said on Friday.

The storm occurred during a quarter that is typically the most benign for catastrophe losses, and could become the costliest winter weather event in Texas history, A.M. Best said in a report.

The Texas Department of Insurance plans to collect data from property insurers to assess costs stemming from the crippled electrical grid, roofing collapses, broken pipes and other problems, a spokesman said.

“We expect this to be a large event, but we just don’t know how large it will be,” said Texas Department of Insurance spokesman Ben Gonzalez, noting that the data inquiry mirrors the regulator’s process after other major storms, such as hurricanes.

Karen Clark & Co., a Boston firm whose software helps insurers to predict catastrophe losses, estimates an $18 billion insurance tab for property damage in Texas and other states, a spokesman said.

Bitter cold weather and snow have paralyzed Texas since Sunday, shutting down much of the state’s electricity grid and freezing pipes and waterways, leaving communities across the state either without water altogether or forced to boil it for safety.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott confirmed that all power-generating plants were online as of Thursday afternoon. He urged lawmakers to pass legislation to ensure the grid was prepared for cold weather in the future.

Texas insurers expect “hundreds of thousands of claims” said Camille Garcia, Insurance Council of Texas spokeswoman on Thursday. [L1N2KO3AX]

“That could be anything from small fender benders to significant home damage because of burst pipes, and everything in between,” Garcia said.

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