Rotary Club speaker concerned about insurance industry

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 29, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; The 14 months since Hurricane Katrina have been the most difficult of any during the 31 years he has served as Mississippi&8217;s insurance commissioner, George Dale said Wednesday.

Dale, speaking to the Natchez Rotary Club, said the storm&8217;s devastation on the state&8217;s gulf coast was more than a state tragedy.

&8220;Katrina was by far the most expensive storm ever to hit this country,&8221; Dale said.

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&8220;And what it proved was that we were not ready, not in the state and not in the country. It overwhelmed us.&8221;

As insurance commissioner, he had to walk a tight line between the insurance companies and the policy-holders whose properties were destroyed, he said.

In the aftermath of Katrina, Dale is concerned about the insurance industry. &8220;Will the insurance industry be willing to take on another storm?&8221;

Finding the fair balance between allowing insurance companies to raise rates for areas prone to disaster and allowing residents and businesses to live in those places and be able to afford insurance &8212; that is the kind of problem his department has grappled with since the storm, Dale said.

On Aug. 29, the one-year anniversary of Katrina&8217;s strike on the coast, Dale reported that 94.3 percent of the homeowner claims filed in Mississippi had been settled.

His goal is for 100 percent of the claims to be settled completely.

Dale proposed some what-if questions that could jeopardize the insurance industry&8217;s future.

&8220;What if there was another earthquake like the one in San Francisco in 1906? What if there was a repeat of the Galveston hurricane of 1900,&8221; he said.

The Galveston hurricane killed perhaps as many as 12,000 people. The same hurricane today would involve a much larger population, he said.

The costs in today&8217;s dollars of a repeat of the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco are unimaginable, Dale said.

He referred to the New Madrid earthquakes that took place in 1811 and 1812.

&8220;What if there were another earthquake in the New Madrid fault,&8221; he said. That fault runs through the central Mississippi River valley, taking its name from New Madrid, Mo.

An insurance industry is essential for a thriving economy, Dale said.

&8220;That&8217;s what separates us from developing countries.&8221;

People will continue to choose to live in the beautiful hills of California that are prone to sloughing and in the dense forests of the West prone to fires, he said.

&8220;And people will continue to want to live in he beautiful back bay of Bay St. Louis,&8221; he said.

&8220;We&8217;ve got to provide insurance for the people who want to live on the coast,&8221; he said. &8220;And we&8217;ll continue to seek solutions to make it possible for people to live there.&8221;