An estimated EF4 tornado with a wind range of up to 200 mph roared through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, Okla., on May 20, leaving behind massive devastation and at least 24 confirmed dead. Earlier media reports indicated as many as 51 fatalities resulted from the storm. Authorities have said that the death toll from the tornado could rise as recovery efforts are ongoing. More than 200 people are reported injured.
President Obama has declared a major disaster in Oklahoma, and approved Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin’s request for disaster assistance for five Oklahoma counties in the wake of three days of tornadoes, straight-line winds and flooding.
The disaster assistance benefits individuals and business owners impacted by the severe storms that occurred May 18 and continuing in Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain, Oklahoma and Pottawatomie counties. Gov. Fallin noted with additional damage assessments other counties could be added to the declaration.
In addition to numerous fatalities and injuries, property damage is widespread throughout central Oklahoma. The American Insurance Association (AIA) reported that insurers are already actively engaged in helping policyholders recover.
“Insurance claims adjusters have already begun helping policyholders and will be within the disaster zone itself as soon as permitted while some insurers have already deployed their mobile claims units to the vicinity. AIA’s members are actively communicating with policyholders by a variety of means including social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. We encourage policyholders to immediately contact their insurer to report damage and begin the claims process,” said Jim Whittle, assistant general counsel and chief claims counsel for the AIA.
The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) reported that the state has set up a command center at the Heart of Oklahoma Exposition Center, 1700 W. Independence in Shawnee, giving victims a centralized location to find assistance from insurers as well as disaster relief agencies. In addition, the state Department of Insurance has set up an insurance center at the First Baptist Church of Moore, 301 N.E. 27th Street. Insurance companies have been invited to set up their mobile units at that location, which opened at 8:00 a.m. Tuesday, May 21.
Attorney General Scott Pruitt announced that the state’s Emergency Price Stabilization Act is now in effect for 16 Oklahoma counties: Caddo, Cleveland, Comanche, Creek, Garfield, Grant, Greer, Kiowa, Lincoln, Logan, McClain, Okfuskee, Oklahoma, Pawnee, Payne and Pottawatomie.
The price gouging statute prohibits an increase of more than 10 percent in the price of most goods and services when a state of emergency has been declared. It was adopted following the May 1999 tornadoes that caused significant damage across a large portion of Oklahoma, according to the AG’s office.
The act is in effect for another 180 days for prices to repairs, remodeling and construction.
Recent tornado activity in Oklahoma is reminiscent of the string of tornadoes that hit Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Georgia and 13 other states in 1999, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Those tornadoes resulted in $1.5 billion in insured losses ($2 billion in 2012 dollars) in all the affected states, according to ISO.
In Oklahoma alone, the tornado that on May 3, 1999, largely swept through the same area as the Moore twister, caused nearly $1 billion in damages ($1.4 billion in 2012 dollars, according to ISO), the I.I.I. said. It was deemed an EF-5 tornado, killed 41 people and generated about 146,000 claims.
A report released earlier this year by Lloyd’s of London showed the United States experiences more tornadoes than anywhere else in the world and that the resulting long term average losses are on par to those from hurricanes:
In 2011, the U.S. reported a record-breaking 1,600 tornadoes with more than $25 billion in damages. That year, two of the costliest U.S. tornado events, based on insured losses, occurred in Tuscaloosa, Ala. ($7.5 billion insured damages in 2012 dollars), and Joplin, Mo., and other locations ($7.0 billion in insured losses in 2012 dollars,) according to the I.I.I.
The National Weather Service said more severe weather is expected throughout the midwest section of the country today, including the area around Oklahoma City.