MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

June 11, 2013

State’s tornadoes spawn thousands of insurance claims

First filings estimated at nearly $250M

— TULSA (AP) — Insurance companies have been deluged by property damage claims since tornadoes raked central Oklahoma last month, and on Monday state officials were still trying to tally the initial claims from the most recent outbreak two weeks ago.

The nearly $250 million in insured losses from the May 19-20 tornadoes are a “drop in the bucket” to what the final tally of insurance claims will be, Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak said. Previously, state officials had estimated the total damage from the May 19-20 outbreaks could approach $2 billion, as the tornadoes damaged or destroyed thousands of homes and businesses.

Some state officials predict the damage from the May outbreak, including the one on May 31, could eclipse that of a May 3, 1999 tornado outbreak that killed dozens of people in Oklahoma.

“We’re in the early stages of this,” Doak said. “The ($250 million) are the advance funds, for living expenses, hotels. That’s just really getting people situated.

“Claims are coming in hundreds a day,” he said. “There will eventually be a bell curve, but we haven’t reached it yet.”

So far, more than 32,000 insurance claims have been submitted for damage from the May 19-20 storms. That figure is likely to jump significantly later this week when state officials update the totals to include claims from the May 31 outbreak.

On May 19, a tornado killed two people after touching down in the Shawnee area. A day later, a massive tornado tore through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, killing 24. Less than two weeks later, the widest tornado on record touched down 30 miles west of Oklahoma City, and 21 people were killed by that storm and the flash flooding it produced.

Even with the large number of claims already submitted, property owners shouldn’t fear some insurance companies becoming insolvent by the crush because the industry “is rock solid, financially,” said Robert Hartwig, the president and economist at the Insurance Information Institute in New York.

“Whether there’s one, two, three or 10 events going on, insurers are going to be there,” he said. “We’re a very conservative industry. “(Insurers) are very experienced at events that cluster like this. Insurers are prepared to fight more than one battle at a time.”

While many insurance claims are likely to be filed with the next several months, it could take policyholders at least a year or more to file, partly due to the sentimentality of saying farewell to their property and memories that go with it, said Jim Camoriano, a spokesman for State Farm.

“It’s a long process. They do have time,” he said. “It’s just going to take time to go through what they had left in their home.”

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