As the town of Picher, Okla., begins to climb out of the wreckage of the deadly tornado that swept across Southeastern Oklahoma and into Missouri and beyond over the May 10 weekend, some are predicting that the town may not rebuild.
The town is the site of one of the nation’s worst environmental disasters and Superfund site, due to the now-closed lead and zinc mines that made Picher a booming town of about 20,000 in the mid-20th century. Most of the population took advantage of federal and state buyouts in recent years and moved away, leaving a town of about 800 before the recent storm hit.
Piles of mine waste, or chat, are now peppered with debris from homes flattened by the tornado that killed six people in Picher. In total, the storms killed 21 people, 14 in Missouri and one in Georgia, according to Associated Press reports.
Arkansas, Oklahoma and North Texas have been battered with a seemingly endless stream of storms this spring. Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland told Insurance Journal that while mounting damages from frequent disasters could cause property insurance rates to spike in that state, she hasn’t seen any evidence of that so far.
Arkansas was relatively spared in the most recent round of storms, but violent weather — including 11 tornadoes — a week earlier caused nearly $11 million in damages, according to figures released by the Arkansas Insurance Department.
In Texas, tornadoes, high winds and hail storms have struck Texas this year causing insured losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars, the Insurance Council of Texas reported. Nationwide, violent thunderstorms with outbreaks of tornadoes have caused more than $3 billion in insured losses this year alone.
“The contrast between the colder wintertime air masses and the warmer sub-tropics, coupled with an active jet stream, have contributed to a number of fairly widespread severe weather outbreaks,” according to Greg Carbin of the National Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.
Carbin said nationwide, preliminary data indicate a record or near record for tornadoes in January and February and May is beginning in fairly typical fashion with the most recent outbreak.
Nationwide, direct tornado-related fatalities are now at or near 100, the highest annual number in a decade, the ICT reported.
Texas’ insured losses in the first quarter of the year amounted to $270 million. Much of that destruction came from severe thunderstorms that raked north Texas with tornadoes, straight-line winds and hail storms. Only Georgia, Tennessee and California experienced worse losses earlier this year.
Gary Kerney with the Insurance Service Office Property Claim Services said severe weather has resulted in catastrophic losses of $3.35 billion for the first three months of the year. He said the losses represent the worst first quarter results in a decade. “More than 600,000 claims were reported in 22 states with the majority of the losses coming from damaging winds, large hail, flooding, tornadoes and a winter storm,” said Kerney.
Mark Hanna with the Insurance Council of Texas (ICT) says Texas averages 150 tornadoes each year and that the month of May usually records the highest number of tornadoes and the highest number of fatalities.
“The deadliest tornado in Texas history occurred on May 11, 1953, killing 114 people in Waco,” Hanna said. “Many Texans will never forget other deadly May tornadoes such as Lubbock, Saragosa and Jarrell that combined killed 83 people.”
The March 28, 2000 tornado, that struck downtown Fort Worth, remains the costliest tornado on record in Texas, with insured losses set at $445 million.
For more information on tornadoes and severe weather in Texas, turn to ICT’s Web site at www.insurancecouncil.org/insurancefacts.asp.
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