Death During Texas Storm Blamed on Electrocution

By DIANA HEIDGERD | May 31, 2011

The powerful thunderstorms that unleashed large hail and tornadoes on parts of North Texas this week caused the electrocution death of a Dallas man, medical officials ruled Thursday, and insurance experts said they expect damage claims could reach $300 million.

The body of Robert Ragan, 35, of Dallas, was found Wednesday morning near a downed power line outside a storm-damaged apartment complex in Dallas. The Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled his death was an accidental electrocution and attributed it to the storm.

The storm spawned at least eight confirmed tornadoes Tuesday in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and pelted the metropolitan area with hail as large, in some cases, as softballs. Hundreds of people remained without power Thursday, and some airlines canceled flights because of damaged planes.

The timing of the storm – hitting toward the end of the evening rush hour, meaning more cars were exposed – couldn’t have been much worse for property damage, said Jerry Johns, president of the Austin-based Southwestern Insurance Information Service. The industry expects between $200 million to $300 million in damage claims, he said.

“This was a rather shocking storm for the insurance industry,” he said.

And many homeowners may not realize the extent of their roof damage until the next rain exposes it, Johns said. He urged homeowners not to immediately hire door-to-door roofers soliciting their business, but suggested screening them and checking their references carefully.

As of Thursday night, repair crews had restored electric service to virtually all of about 70,000 North Texas customers left in the dark by the Tuesday night storms, according to the website of electric service provider Oncor.

American Airlines canceled 73 flights on Thursday at Dallas – Fort Worth International Airport over schedule adjustments involving hail-damaged planes, airline spokesman Tim Smith said. The airline brought in about 40 extra mechanics and technicians from its maintenance hub in Tulsa, Okla., Smith said.

All of the 51 aircraft that were out of service because of hail damage Wednesday were back in service by Thursday evening, he said. Several American Eagle planes also were fixed.

On a positive note, enough rain fell in part of northeast Texas to alleviate drought conditions. The U.S. Drought Monitor map released Thursday showed that 2.3 percent of the state fell out of drought, the first time in two months that any part of Texas had such a distinction.

The map also shows less of the state in exceptional drought, which is the worst stage. About 44 percent of the state is in exceptional drought, down from about 48 percent last week.

Conditions in East Texas improved from exceptional drought to extreme drought.

The historic drought has already cost Texas farmers and ranchers about $1.5 billion.

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