The storm system that produced deadly tornadoes this past week, including the one that leveled Moore, Okla., is expected to cause between $2 billion and $5 billion in insured property losses, according to catastrophe modeler Eqecat.
The Moore tornado caused the bulk of the expected losses, Eqecat says, destroying approximately 13,000 structures.
Jim Camoriano, spokesman for State Farm, says the insurer has, as of 11 a.m. Eastern, already received about 6,700 claims in Oklahoma from storm and tornado activity occuring between May 19-May 21. Most of those claims come from Moore. He says 4,200 are auto claims, while 2,500 are property -- mostly homeowners claims.
State Farm, according to SNL Financial data, is the largest insurer by market share in Oklahoma for catastrophe risk. SNL defines catastrophe risk as allied lines (excluding crop and flood), commercial auto physical damage, commercial multiple peril (non-liability), farmowners multiple peril, fire, homeowners multiple peril, inland marine and private passenger auto physical damage.
Mark Toohey, a spokesman for Farmers Insurance Group -- the second largest insurer by market share in Oklahoma according to SNL -- says the insurer has received about 1,900 claims in Moore alone so far, noting that the number is fluid and more claims will likely come in. Of that figure, he says about 65 percent are property claims and 35 percent auto.
Camoriano says State Farm has about 300 adjusters from around the U.S. on the ground in Moore. He says the company also has an "agent buddy system," used for the first time during 2005's Hurricane Katrina, where agents from around the country volunteer to set up shop and take care of customers. He says 75 State Farm agents have volunteered their time in Moore.
Camoriano notes that the Department of Insurance has set up a command center in town at the First Baptist Church, and all of the propety and casualty insurance companies are operating from there in a large parking lot. He says about 500 customers have come just to the State Farm tents, and the company was able to write additional living expenses checks and provide temporary lodging and food.
Farmers' Toohey says he has been in Moore since Tuesday, and notes that the insurer has two catastrophe buses in the area (normally, he says, the insurer would send one bus to a disaster scene, but sent two to Moore due to the devastation), allowing people to file claims, process checks and obtain food and beverages on site. "It's almost like a little village," he says of the scene around the two buses.
He says about 1,000 people have come by so far since Tuesday. Most, he surmises, would be Farmers customers, but he notes, "We don’t ask them for ID or anything if they come by for a sandwich."
He says the insurer has about 300 people on the ground in Moore, including claims adjusters and agents. "Now that we can get into damaged areas, we’re going out and seeking out customers" rather than waiting for them to come to Farmers, he notes.
Toohey says he met two people whose houses were destroyed by a 1999 tornado that struck Moore, and now they lost their homes again from the latest twister. He says when all is said and done, insurers will probably hear a lot of similar stories around Moore.
Farmers' agent Don Cox in front of a damaged house in Moore, Okla. (Credit: Mark Toohey, Farmers)
Camoriano says State Farm has two agents in the area whose offices were destroyed. One of them, he says, was trapped under rubble with four members of his staff until they were rescued.
He says one of State Farm's insureds was a teacher who took students into a bathroom as the tornado approached and had them cover their heads with books. All survived the devastation.
Camoriano also says National Association of Insurance Commissioners CEO Ben Nelson was in the area touring the insurers' command center. Camoriano says he has been to several disaster areas over the years and does not recall seeing an NAIC CEO on site before. “It’s good to see,” he says.
He adds that Insurance Commissioner John Doak held a press conference noting the department's anti-fraud efforts, such as ensuring non-registered contractors do not take advantage of tornado victims.
Additionally, Doak noted that Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed a bill into law authorizing a $45 million disaster-relief fund for impacted areas, Camoriano says.
Furthermore, Doak announced a moratorium on cancellations, non renewals and rate increases in tornado damaged communities.
Eqecat, citing National Weather Service reports, says 16 tornadoes touched down on May 18, 29 touched down on May 19 and 31 touched down on May 20 May.
Two of the tornadoes that struck south of Oklahoma City, an EF4 tornado on May 19 an the EF5 tornado on May 20 that struck Moore, were responsible for an estimated 26 fatalities.
“Advance tornado forecasts and warnings were not sufficient to reduce the loss of life from these events,” Eqecat says. Some experts, though, credited modern warning systems with at least giving people in the tornadoes’ path a chance to get to safety. Harold Brooks, senior scientist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory’s forecast research and development division, found that from 1986 to 2004 the amount of lead time between warning issuance and tornado formation has increased from 5 minutes to 13 minutes or more, allowing people to grab belongings and get to shelter.
In total, tornadoes over the past week struck Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Texas, Colorado, Arkansas and Indiana.
Aside from the tornado touchdowns, Eqecat says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports 76 incidents of straight winds and 92 hail storms on May 18, 255 wind events and 142 hail storms on the 19th, and 218 wind events and 105 hail storms on the 20th.
Eqecat says tornado activity so far in 2013 has been below the long-term average, with 342 tornado touchdowns as of May 23 -- about half the average over the last 8 years and less than one-third the pace of the record activity years of 2008 and 2011.
Updated with figures from State Farm.