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Montecito Mudslide Insurance Claims Top $421 Million

MONTECITO (CBSLA/AP) —More than 2,000 insurance claims exceeding $421 million have been filed from the deadly Montecito mudslide, which killed 21 people and destroyed or damaged more than 4001 homes and businesses.

Insurers have received more than 2,000 claims for residential and commercial losses, commissioner Dave Jones announced. Those include $388 million for residential personal property, $27.2 million for commercial property and $6.7 million for auto and other lines of insurance.

"Over $421 million in insured losses represents more than property lost—behind these numbers are the tragic deaths of 21 people and thousands of residents traumatized by unfathomable loss," Jones said in a statement. "Recovering and rebuilding lives, homes and neighborhoods will take time—and it will be difficult."

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Mudslide Devastates Montecito

The wealthy seaside enclave -- home to celebrities like Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres and Rob Lowe -- was devastated by mudslides on Jan. 9, just months after California's biggest wildfire on record tore through the area.

The mudslide insurance claims come on top of California wildfire claims that topped $12 billion in 2017, making it the most expensive series of fires in state history, Jones said.

That exceeds the total insurance claims from the top 10 previously most costly wildfires in California. Most of last year's claims were connected to Southern California's fires in December and October's devastating blazes in wine country north of San Francisco.

Jones said he fears the staggering number of insurance claims represent a "new normal" for California.

"It used to be we could talk about a wildfire season. Now that's simply not the case. Wildfires are year-round, and Californians need to protect themselves accordingly," he warned.

In Montecito, 1,415 residences were damaged and 107 were destroyed, in some cases swept completely off their foundations, Jones said. Five commercial properties were demolished and 235 others suffered damage when torrents of water flowed down hills carrying mud, boulders and debris.

Jones recalled the experience of touring the devastation zone as "extraordinarily chilling."

The commissioner predicted that the $421 million total will climb as additional claims are made and existing ones are adjusted.

Few residents in Montecito, with 3,200 households, had flood or mudslide insurance prior to the destruction. But the Department of Insurance reminded insurers to honor claims if they had fire coverage, Jones said.

That's because the debris flow's "proximate cause" was the enormous Thomas fire that scorched a huge swath of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties starting in December and loosened hillsides that became vulnerable to mudslides weeks later.

Jones said insurers have enough reserves to pay the massive claims. But he said the fires and subsequent debris flows may prompt them to re-evaluate the fire risk and raise premiums, especially for California homes in high-risk areas.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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