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Travelers Insurance Cos. has begun settling damage claims from last spring's downtown water-main break and is about to begin talks with lawyers for a number of Niagara Street businesses and property owners devastated by the multimillion-gallon gusher.

Attorneys Juan E. Irene and Michael A. Ponterio said Monday that attorneys for Travelers want to meet with them in several weeks to discuss a possible out-of-court settlement of their clients' damage claims.

Irene said attorneys for Travelers, which insured both TCI of New York and the local contractor involved in the April 22 incident, seem eager to meet "and try and work this out" but have not paid any money yet to his business clients between Huron and Carolina streets.

Paul J. Meegan, TCI's general manager, said Travelers began settling claims weeks ago and "a number of claims have been settled," but he declined to say how much money Travelers had paid out.

Meegan, who began prodding Travelers soon after the flooding to pay off legitimate claims, said he and other TCI officials "are happy to see this move toward a conclusion."

Spokesmen for Travelers' parent company, located in Hartford, Conn., could not be reached to comment.

Millions of gallons of water inundated downtown Buffalo after workers for Derkovitz Enterprises of Lancaster sliced through the water main at Delaware Avenue and West Huron Street while doing work for TCI.

Irene said he also filed notices of claim against city government within 90 days of the incident "to protect my clients" if the negotiations with the insurance carrier collapse and lawsuits have to be filed over the property damage.

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