WASHINGTON, Oct 14 (Reuters) - Property damage caused by Hurricane Matthew has spawned over $218 million in insurance claims so far in Florida, according to state officials, much less than the multi-billion dollar toll initially feared, but the figure is expected to rise.
The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation said in response to a Reuters query there had been more than 39,000 claims statewide as of Tuesday, about 90 percent of them for damage to residential property.
"We anticipate this number will grow as consumers return to their homes and assess the damage to their property and belongings," said Karen Kees, a spokeswoman for the state regulator. "It will take time for this process to be complete."
Matthew, which approached the Florida coast last week as a powerful Category 4 hurricane and killed more than 1,000 people in Haiti, stirred initial concern about the ability of Florida's private insurance market to cope with the aftermath.
It was the first hurricane to test the small private insurers that have come to dominate Florida's market over the past decade, as larger insurance companies pulled out after a series of powerful storms.
Analysts initially feared Matthew would become one of the costliest U.S. hurricanes, with insurance losses of $25 billion to $30 billion.
But the storm weakened as it neared the U.S. mainland and its center remained off the Florida coast, sparing local residents from more devastating damage.
Only 650 claims had been paid, while more than 1,000 others had been closed but not paid. That left about 37,000 claims open, according to state officials, who said many of those could be for substantial damage and will take time to resolve.
Florida officials said more than 200 insurers reported receiving Matthew-related claims. The greatest number of claims were filed in Volusia, Duval and Brevard counties, which encompass Daytona Beach, Jacksonville, Cocoa Beach, Melbourne and Cape Canaveral.
Less than 5 percent, or about 1,800 claims, were for flood damage, a storm-related danger that is usually covered by the government's National Federal Insurance Program.
Claims that were closed and not paid could suggest that some policies did not cover flood damage or that damage did not meet the policy's hurricane deductible, Kees said in an email response to questions submitted by Reuters.
"We believe the insurance companies are working diligently to resolve claims as fast as they can," she added. (Reporting by Kevin Drawbaugh, Writing by David Morgan, Editing by Julia Edwards and Phil Berlowitz)