Insurers, Officials Begin to Assess Damage from Oklahoma Tornado

Wreckage of the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., on Tuesday, May 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, Pool) Wreckage of the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., on Tuesday, May 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, Pool)

Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak said that the tornado that struck Oklahoma on Monday, now updated to EF-5 strength, may exceed the $3 billion in damage incurred by the Joplin, Missouri tornado in 2011 that killed 161 people, according to a Reuters report.

Meanwhile, catastrophe modeler AIR Worldwide estimates that the replacement value of damaged properties in the track of the tornado could be about $2 billion within a buffer zone of 0.4 miles on each side, and $6 billion for a one-mile buffer zone. 

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Wall Street analysts agree that the losses will be in the billions, based on damages from recent historic tornadoes like the ones in Joplin and Tuscaloosa, Ala.

A State Farm spokesman says the insurer has seen 3,045 total claims from the tornado as of this morning, distributed between 62 percent property and 38 percent auto claims. 

USAA says it has received 1,300 auto and property claims.

“An official estimate of the number of destroyed homes has not yet been released, however the 1999 EF-5 tornado that followed a similar path to Monday’s EF-5 Moore tornado destroyed more than 8,000 homes,” says Tim Doggett, AIR’s senior principal scientist, in a statement.

Localized hailstorms also occurred in Missouri and there were tornado sightings in Missouri, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, and Colorado, but the two-mile-wide Moore tornado was the most damaging, AIR says. 

An AIR analysis found that many homes in Oklahoma are built on concrete slabs because of soil conditions in the state and so there were few basements, although the modeler notes that underground shelters are considered the safest places to hide when a tornado passes. 

The town of Moore also does not have an official tornado shelter, according to the town’s website.  

Mostly wood-frame residential houses populated the affected community, which AIR says are more vulnerable to high winds and fling flying debris than brick masonry houses.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, tornadoes have caused $97.8 billion in insured losses in the U.S. between 1990 and 2009, making these weather events second only to hurricanes ($152.4 billion) over this same time period as the costliest natural disasters. Between 2008 and 2010, tornadoes have caused $30 billion in insured losses.

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