SPECIAL REPORT | JOPLIN TORNADO
Claims Tales, continued from page 23
you can see where a tornado hits a neighborhood or hits a certain area of the town, but usually, it’s pretty concentrated the damage is. But with Joplin, it was just like the whole city ... a bomb had been dropped, and just blew. It was like you were watching CNN in a country that was experiencing warlike conditions, and not something a tornado would have happen. It was pretty mind-blowing,” Welton said. “I’ve been with the ‘cat’ department since 2003, so I’d worked several tornadoes, and several of them large, but nothing like this.” Comparing an average catastrophe loss to Joplin, while it usually takes a half-day to locate the perimeter of the loss, it took almost three days because of access issues and the scope of the damage. Welton estimated that claims involving homes that were a total loss were resolved within 10 days to two weeks. Contents losses took longer. Normally, adjusters working catastrophe losses put in 12-hour days. In this case, American Family’s cat team worked 16- to 18-hour days. American Family’s catastrophe response team processed nearly 2,300 claims and paid more than $100 million in property, auto and commercial claims. Keeney, the adjuster with Shelter Insurance’s catastrophe response team, was already in the Joplin area handling hail claims when the skies began darkening that fateful Sunday. “On Sundays, we typically work two or three claims,” Keeney said. “I was on my last one at about five o’clock, just a few miles north of Joplin. It had been an extremely hot and
24 Claims Journal | Spring 2012
humid day. The humidity was so high that you just knew that it was eventually going to result in a rain. It was one of those things in the back of my mind I kept thinking, eventually once it comes, it’ll bring some relief to that humidity and knock it down a little bit. So along about four o’clock or so, I could see that the sky was getting dark, and the storm was coming in.
‘When you start seeing all these people going through what they’re going through, it just kind of takes your breath away.’ “I had just finished my last roof at about 4:30 or 5, and I was staying over in Springfield, Mo.,” Keeney continued. “Rather than come down and hit I-44 coming through the heart of Joplin, I decided to take some back county roads because the storm looked so dark that I thought I would avoid driving through the heavy rain and try and get ahead of it as I was heading east back towards Springfield. Then once I got back to Springfield at about 6:30 and turned the TV on, then [I] realized that what I had [seen] and what I was trying to get ahead of was in actuality the F5 tornado.” Keeney put in 12-hour days and worked Joplin claims for seven months. “I was there right up until the week before Christmas, working three week straight rotation and then five days off, and then back for another three weeks,” he said. “This thing was just like a tsunami of wind that just leveled everything in its path. There was no structure standing; 7,000 structures were leveled — businesses, hospitals, oﬃce complexes, apartments, sheds, garage, outbuildings, trees, shrubs. There was virtually nothing left standing,” Keeney said. Elisabeth Sobczak, a trainer with property claims experience, drove Shelter Insurance’s storm van down to Joplin on Sunday evening. She was one of the first to arrive on the scene along with emergency medical personal. “It didn’t seem chaotic. It just seemed like people were trying to get their world back,” Sobczak said. She helped storm victims change tires, and provided food, water and even handed out trash bags so people could collect their belongings. “It would amaze you the value of a Hefty bag. Their possessions are just everywhere and those that were lucky enough to have it, still on their property … were trying to pick through the debris to see what they could salvage, and it was only what they could carry in their arms because they had no place to put it. People were crying, saying thank you because they at least had a place to start collecting their belongings,” she said. Sobczak described holding Joplin residents who needed someone to listen and a shoulder to cry on.
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