Thousands of Claims Anticipated: 18 Dead, Hundreds Homeless After Tenn., Ky. Tornado

April 6, 2006

Thousands of claims are anticipated by carriers and insurance agents in northern Tennessee and southern Kentucky in the aftermath of a large F-3 to F-4 tornado. The storm formed at about 7 p.m. April 2, touching down in three or four rural counties, and tore a swath of death and destruction leaving 18 people dead and hundreds injured.

Large carriers have received thousands of claims and although final statistics are not yet tallied, carriers and independent agents, estimated 8,000 to 10,000 claims have been initially filed for homes and auto damages. Agents interviewed by Insurance Journal estimated 60 percent of the claims were homes and 40 percent autos. The tornado blew down homes and tore off roofs along its path. Auto damage was caused by hail.

The Salvation Army reported Wednesday that it was serving about 800 meals a day to tornado victims in rural counties.

The tornado tore through Dyers County, 70 miles northeast of Nashville, next to Fort Campbell, Ky., and followed the river, skipping across Christian County and scoring a direct hit on Hopkinsville, Ky.

Independent agents in northern Tennessee and southern Kentucky told Insurance Journal they had a variety of claims and were being deluged with calls about damage to their autos and property. The tornado brought with it large chunks of hail, which smashed auto windows and dented the vehicles.

Independent insurance agents in Tennessee reported fewer claims, but said 18 to 20 deaths had been reported. Kentucky agents, however, said that while no deaths had occurred, they were being deluged with claims.

Hopkinsville agent Paula Shelton said that over-all Bradshaw & Co. had about 35 claims, but said it was hard to keep track because most of her customers were calling in their claims directly to the carriers.

“The tornado was supposed to be an F-3,” Shelton said, “but we have had an F-4 before and this looks like the same amount of devastation we had then.”

She said there were a lot of damages. Shelton said in Hopkins County, tornadoes usually follow the river. With this tornado it moved up the river and then jumped into several nearby rural areas, including the towns of Ashley, Mansfield, Newburn, Bradford and Rutherford.

White & Associates Insurance Agency Personal Lines office manager, Kim Whitson, said the tornado missed Dyersburg, Tenn., but tore up rural areas where numerous homes are located in built-up neighborhoods.

Dyersburg has about 30,000 to 35,000 residents, not including the county itself. Whitson said White & Associates had about 150 claims, mostly at homes. She said hail accompanying the storm caused a lot of auto damages. She had many claims in which a residence was destroyed, including the autos.

“The biggest problem was that either people heard the warning, but did not react, or did not hear it, I don’t know which,” Whitson explained. The tornado hit the town on Sunday night, between 7 and 9 p.m., destroying more than 100 residences and totally destroying a church.

North of Hopkinsville, 28 people were injured, but there were no deaths. The area encountered some hail, but that wasn’t widespread. Agents said hail can be terrible when it hits.

Tom Murphy, owner of the Harbor Insurance Agency in Hopkinsville, Ky., said the tornado struck the northern part of Christian County.

“Because the tornado hit a rural area, the numbers were not that tremendous,” Murphy explained. “We have about a dozen claims, two are total losses and one was very significant.”

Murphy said that most of his policyholders would have to call his agency directly to make claims and estimated there were about 100 claims in the area. He said he expects Harbor expects to have to pay out from $700,000 to $800,000 in property damage claims.

Lesa Petty, office manager of Tatum, Hester and Burkhead, said the agency, also in Hopkinsville, had 81 claims, of which 60 were houses and the rest were auto. Petty said most of the residences hit by the tornado suffered major damages.

Due to the limited width of the storm’s path, Dyersburg, Tenn. only had a little damage. Agents there reported only a few minor claims, with shingles torn off a roof. A spokesperson for Bradshaw & Co. said tornado warnings were issued, but that they never saw it at all and just encountered some high winds.

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