By Zach Howard
CONWAY, Mass (Reuters) - Deadly tornadoes that tore through Massachusetts last week caused at least $90 million of damage, making it the most costly single natural disaster in state history, officials said on Tuesday.
The price tag was expected to climb even higher once auto-related damage and commercial devastation costs are tallied, officials said.
"It takes a little bit longer for the commercial side of claims to come in, so we don't really have any kind of picture of that yet," said Jason Lefferts, spokesman for the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation.
So far, about $90 million worth of damage has been reported with damage to about 5,000 homes, said Barbara Anthony, the office undersecretary.
State officials arrived at the figure by surveying insurance carriers, she added.
Anthony advised homeowners to seek out Massachusetts-registered contractors, electricians, plumbers, and sheet-metal workers to make storm-related repairs, and avoid using unregistered or unlicensed crews from out of state who have entered the area looking to work.
Using state registered contractors will help ensure that repair work meets state regulations and, if there are problems later, maintain a consumers' rights for relief, she said.
Three tornadoes last Wednesday killed three people, ripping through some 19 communities in western and central Massachusetts, including Springfield, about 90 miles west of Boston. The National Weather Service classified one of the twisters that moved eastward from Westfield, Massachusetts to Charlton as EF-3 or higher on the damage scale, meaning average wind gusts of up to 165 miles per hour.
Tornadoes, which are rare at that strength in New England, have battered the country this spring, killing more than 500 people, mostly in the South and Midwest.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)