RISE IN PREMIUMS SOUGHT FOR N. CAROLINA COAST

RISE IN PREMIUMS SOUGHT FOR N. CAROLINA COAST

North Carolina's coastal residents, hoping to survive one of the most active hurricane seasons on record, can anticipate more bad news, according to new insurance industry data.

Two new computer studies indicate that property owners on the Outer Banks, now deemed the most hurricane-prone area in North Carolina, are not paying enough for insurance while inland residents are paying too much.Industry officials say the studies, which factor in 100 years of hurricane history, storm probabilities and the value of development, allow them to predict where winds will hit the hardest. And they plan to ask customers in those area to pay more money up front - before devastating damage occurs.

State regulators have questioned the hurricane computer models and the notion of raising premiums to collect future damage costs. Insurers traditionally set rates based on past claims and losses.

"We were unconvinced," spokesman Paul Mahoney of the N.C. Department of Insurance told The Charlotte Observer. "If they overestimate the risk, they will overcharge consumers."

John White of the Insurance Services Office said nine states, including South Carolina but not North Carolina, have approved rate changes based on hurricane computer studies.

The studies came in the wake of Hurricanes Hugo and Andrew after several decades of rapidly increasing development on the Eastern Seaboard. Hugo caused $4.2 billion in insured losses, mostly in coastal South Carolina. Andrew caused $15.5 billion, mostly in southern Florida.

Mr. White said the industry had relied on a 35-year history of hurricanes. The industry believes the longer, 100-year period of storms will balance out extremes in hurricane cycles.

Mr. White said when the Insurance Services Office fed in 100 years of storms and property value estimates to its computer, the results produced one surprise. The studies called for a 30 percent statewide drop in commercial wind-damage rates because damage in the Piedmont and mountains had been overstated.

In 1993, wind-damage estimates drove insurers to seek:

* A 42 percent rate increase for beach communities from the Outer Banks south to Morehead City.

* A 48 percent increase for the mainland part of 11 northeastern counties. Last year, insurers settled with the N.C. Department of Insurance on a maximum 5 percent increase.

* An 8 percent decrease in homeowners' rates for beach communities south of Morehead City to the South Carolina line. The decrease wasn't approved.

* A 69 percent increase for the wind-damage part of commercial insurance for the mainland part of all coastal counties. For all beach areas, wind- damage costs would go up 60 percent.

* A 60 percent decrease in wind-damage premiums for buildings in the western part of the state.

The state insurance department is reviewing the commercial increases. They were submitted by the industry's Insurance Services Office in New York on behalf of North Carolina insurers.