Cover Story: Higher insurance bills?

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The financial toll of Hurricane Irene.  Destruction on a grand scale.

The price tag on all this devastation is growing by the hour.  Three billion, four billion, possibly nine billion dollars. Maybe even higher.

And even if you don't have ocean front property, you could wind up paying.

North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue says Hurricane Irene destroyed more than 1,100 homes in the Tar Heel state alone.

The price tag on all that property damage? At least $70 million.  And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

This killer storm may have caused upwards of $10 billion in damage all along the eastern seaboard.

It's already been a tough year for insurers even before Irene.

People in high-risk areas have been paying higher premiums for awhile.  And now with what we've seen this year no one expects that to end.

Helpless is how Billy Dillon feels right now.

He's in Charlotte and across the state are his mother and two sisters - who he can't get to.

His mother was featured on CBS Evening News Friday and Saturday night.  She runs a motel in the village of Buxton on the section of Hatteras Island cut off from the rest of the world when Irene sliced and diced Highway 12.

"It's rough," Dillon said.  "After a hurricane it's real humid. No air conditioning.. no electricity.. no way to cook. It's rough out there."

Dillon's mother is no stranger to storms.  She made the front page of "USA Today" during Hurricane Isabel eight years ago.

In Irene - they were lucky - no major damage to their property.

Thousands of other people from the Outer Banks to New England cannot say that.

With an expected $7 billion in damage, Hurricane Irene would be among the 10 costliest catastrophes in U.S. history - making one of the insurance industry's worst years even tougher.

A year that's seen blizzards in the Midwest.  Fires in the Southwest.  Tornadoes in the Midwest and Southeast.  And now Hurricane Irene.

Already in 2011, U.S. property insurers have run through a typical year's worth of catastrophe payouts because of an unusual string of severe natural disasters.

Premiums for home owners in high-risk areas, which have been on the rise since Hurricane Katrina six years ago, are expected to go higher.

And some homeowners find insurance won't cover everything.

North Carolinians who saw damage along the coast may get a break from any immediate hike in insurance.

North Carolina may be the only state in the country that tells insurers how much they can charge.

Set by the Department of Insurance the last increase in property and casualty insurance went into effect in 2009.

It's saved Billy Dillon's family on the OBX a number of times.

"We have flood insurance on all our units. The premiums are high. But it does get used," he said.

Irene is the 10th weather disaster in the U.S. this year that's cause more than $1 billion in damage.

That's the most of any year on record dating back the last three decades.

And the year's not over.  There's three more months of hurricane season.

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