State officials are still considering whether to seek a disaster declaration for Maine in the wake of this week’s powerful storm, a move that could free up some money to help home and business owners make repairs.

Sue Faloon, spokeswoman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency, said the agency has not yet begun to gather information on private losses in the storm. A request for comment from Gov. Paul LePage’s office wasn’t returned Wednesday.

Faloon said state officials are compiling information on damage to government-owned property in the state to potentially seek a disaster declaration and aid from the federal government to local governments in the wake of the wind and rain that swept through Maine on Sunday and Monday.

That declaration, she said, would only apply to government property in Maine – roads, buildings or other public infrastructure – that was damaged by the storm. MEMA would need to show losses and damage of at least $1.9 million to qualify for grants and loans from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and counties would need to meet individual limits to qualify for aid, she said.

She encouraged individuals and businesses to save receipts in case a broader declaration is sought. FEMA and other federal agencies typically extend loans to individuals and businesses after large-scale natural disasters for losses that are not covered by insurance.

State and local governments were reimbursed for about $48 million in losses during the 1998 ice storm, another weather event often cited as a similar storm in terms of impact on the state. According to MEMA, individuals or businesses received $6.5 million in government grants and loans after that storm in January 1998, which cut power to more than half of the state’s homes, in some cases for weeks, and hundreds of millions of dollars were paid out by private insurers.

State officials haven’t yet compiled an estimate of the damage caused by this week’s storm, but individuals are starting to file insurance claims.

Homeowners’ insurance policies should cover most of the damage the storm caused, said Wendy Tapley, who owns the Tapley Insurance Agency in York and is chair of the Maine Insurance Agents Association.

While homeowners’ policies generally don’t cover flood damage, they often will cover damage such as flooded basements caused by backups of water or sewer systems, as long as the homeowner had a sump pump, Tapley said.

Coverage for damage caused by high winds, such as a tree toppling on a house or torn-off shingles and siding, should also be included in standard Maine homeowners’ policies, Tapley said.

She said such coverage often requires a separate policy in hurricane-prone areas such as Florida or the Gulf Coast, but not in Maine. However, some houses in very vulnerable areas of Maine, such as along the coast, might have higher deductibles for wind damage, Tapley said.

Most policies also will help cover living costs if a home is damaged and uninhabitable, she said, including the loss of food that goes bad in freezers and refrigerators that lost power.

Damage to cars from wind-driven debris is covered by comprehensive automobile policies, Tapley said.

Frank Kimball, property casualty division director for the Maine Bureau of Insurance, which regulates insurers in the state, said most policies in Maine are fairly broad about what they cover for storms like the one that hit this week.

But Kimball said that anyone who is concerned that they may not be treated fairly by their insurer should call the property casualty division at 800-300-5000 to file a complaint. He said his division will review the policy to try to help determine what is and isn’t covered and will look to see if there’s a pattern of complaints about a particular insurer, which can prompt tighter oversight.

Kimball said many homeowners still have not assessed their damage and may not until electricity service is restored.

Tapley said most insurance companies can make arrangements to get an adjuster to look at the damage within a few days or weeks. If the number of claims becomes overwhelming, she said, the insurance companies will send more adjusters to Maine to help.

They did that after the ice storm, but with mixed results, Tapley said.

“We had people coming in from Florida and that didn’t work too well,” she said.

Staff Writer Joe Lawlor contributed to this report.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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