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Oklahoma Disaster Insurance Payments May Be Inadequate

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As people in central Oklahoma emerge from the wreckage of the tornado that flattened entire neighborhoods, some will face another bitter realization: Residents of Moore and neighboring areas may lack insurance coverage to compensate them for the loss of all of their worldly possessions.

About 98 percent of homeowners carry insurance, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Standard homeowner and business insurance policies cover wind damage from tornadoes and thunderstorms, but some individuals and companies choose to buy less insurance than they need to keep costs down. As a result, some Oklahoma homeowners and businesses will find that they lack enough insurance to fully rebuild, even though their policies may cover a portion of their losses.

Many residents affected by tornado damage in Oklahoma are renters, and are unlikely to have an insurance policy to cover any losses at all, Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak told NewsOK.

“It's not just mobile homes, there’s apartment complexes,” John Wiscaver, vice president of public affairs for Oklahoma Farm Bureau Insurance, told The Huffington Post in an interview Tuesday. “There are remarkably many renters in those large apartment complexes that did not carry renters coverage.”

According to a 2012 Insurance Information Institute poll conducted by ORC International, just 31 percent of U.S. renters carried renters insurance. Renters in Oklahoma face a high hurdle when aiming to protect their property against disaster. The state has the third-highest rental insurance premiums in the nation, according to 2010 data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. That's because Oklahoma sits in Middle America's Tornado Alley.

Homeowner insurance policies typically cover furniture, clothes and other personal items when homes are destroyed by a tornado. Most companies cover from 50 percent to 70 percent of the amount of insurance on the home, and will also cover the costs of living away from home -- including hotel bills and restaurant meals -- if a resident’s house has been rendered uninhabitable.

Businesses with business income insurance can make claims for sales they would have made absent the tornado. However, Loretta Worters, a vice president at Insurance Information Institute, said that many small businesses in the U.S. don’t carry insurance. Around 25 percent of businesses do not reopen after being hit my a major disaster, according to the Institute for Business and Home Safety.

Cars damaged by the tornado are covered under the optional comprehensive portion of a standard auto insurance policy. Three out of four drivers in the U.S. choose to buy comprehensive coverage, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Insurance appraisers were already on the ground in Central Oklahoma to survey the damage from Sunday’s storm when new tornadoes ravaged the region on Monday, according to NewsOK. Doak issued an emergency order Monday to allow insurance appraisers from out of state to help handle claims quickly.

Insured losses due to thunderstorm damage, which includes tornadoes, across the U.S. have increased sevenfold since 1980, according to risk management firm Munich Re. In 2012 alone, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes cost $14.9 billion in insured losses and $27.7 billion in economic losses, the organization reported. It remains unclear which insurers are most exposed to the catastrophe. Travelers, Liberty Mutual and Zurich Insurance Group have the greatest share of the property insurance market in the state of Oklahoma, according to SNL Financial.

“It will take weeks to calculate the number of insured losses and claims resulting from yesterday’s natural disaster,” said Worters. “I can tell you that tornadoes this spring have been some of the costliest -- and deadliest -- in U.S. history.”

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May 2013 Central U.S. Tornadoes (GRAPHIC IMAGES)
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