Costs of the storm

Saturday, June 7, 2003

As levels of normalcy begin to return to Jackson, one month after a tornado smashed the city, homeowners have felt varying degrees of insurance company cooperation as they try to recover.

Ed and Sue Walker already have spent nearly $2,000 to repair tornado damage that will not be reimbursed by the insurance company.

"We had lots of tree damage, which is not covered in our policy," Sue Walker said.

Broken limbs and uprooted tree stumps plague the Walkers' yard, the garage door no longer is attached to the dwelling and the majority of the repairs have yet to be made.

After the storm, the Walkers said they didn't have any other options but to live in their damaged house. Yet, Ed Walker said it took four days for the insurance company to assess the house's safety. While waiting on insurance adjusters, the Walkers went ahead and took actions to guard their safety. They thought an engineer's assessment would be covered by their insurance policy.

"We had to hire a structural engineer to determine if the house was safe to live in," he said. "But the insurance company told us afterward they weren't paying for that because it wasn't necessary."

Estimates of the damage to the Walker home are about $12,000, Ed Walker said.

Those who feel they have been taken advantage of by an insurance company can get assistance from the state, said Randy L. McConnell, communications director for the Missouri Department of Insurance.

"Under Missouri state law, insurance companies only have 30 days after the claim has been made to investigate," McConnell said. "Generally speaking, if the claim is not settled four to six weeks after the accident, victims may feel that the insurance company is not cooperating. At that time they should contact us to begin an investigation."

Insurance providers that do not comply with state law are at risk of losing their state license, McConnell said.

Pleasant surprises

Some other residents of Jackson have been pleasantly surprised with their experience with the insurance industry.

"We've had $55,000 to $60,000 worth of damage to our home," Tom Cramer said. "Our insurance company is really taking care of us quickly and professionally."

Other residents of Jackson have been given permission by the insurance provider to contract work, but, due to the tornado, local construction companies are overwhelmed with work.

"I have talked with five contractors, but not one of them has been able to give me a bid," said Kathy Fausett, whose home was for sale during the tornado and still is. "I am sure they are just swamped."

In order to determine the order in which policyholders are served after a major natural disaster, insurance companies evaluate the severity of the destruction to each property, said Kelly Kick, media relations director for American Family Insurance.

"The sole way we determine the order of response is by assessing the information we receive," Kick said. "If the home is uninhabitableit will receive a higher priority than a home that is still livable."

Insurance providers are more eager to settle with policyholders who are unable to live at home because the provider must continue to pay for temporary housing until the claim has been settled, McConnell said.

But people like the Walkers continue to live in their damaged home waiting for the repairs to be made.

"We are living paycheck to paycheck, taking out cash advances on our credit cards and draining our savings" Sue Walker said. "I almost wish our damages were worse so we could have gotten help sooner."

Victims of disasters such as the Jackson tornado may suffer far reaching and long lasting emotional stress.

"Losing a home, business, or personal property to disaster takes a financial toll on survivors," said Mike Karl, a federal coordinating officer for the Missouri recovery effort. "But the emotional toll a disaster exacts can be devastating, too. A survivor's emotional well-being also needs to be addressed."

Disaster survivors who are having difficulty coping with stress-related problems due to the tornado can call the Missouri Department of Mental Health at (800) 811-4760 for counseling needs and crisis intervention.

bchapman@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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