The swarm of tornadoes that recently hit the Midwest and the Southeast came in the wake of one of the worst years on record for twisters.
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Preliminary data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates there were 1,709 twisters in 2011, up significantly from the 1,282 confirmed for 2010.
Tornadoes and thunderstorms caused 552 deaths last year, while tornadoes caused 45 deaths in 2010, according to the NOAA and the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center.
The destruction is underscored by both economic and insurance losses, notes the Insurance Information Institute (III). Citing figures from Munich Re, the III says tornadoes and thunderstorms resulted in $25 billion in insured losses in 2011, twice the previous record. It was also the deadliest tornado and thunderstorm season in more than 75 years.
States with the most tornadoes
Which states were hit hardest in 2011? Such data is not yet available. However, the III website lists the states with the largest numbers of tornadoes in 2010, based on statistics from the Department of Commerce and the National Weather Service.
- Minnesota (with 145)
- Texas (105)
- Mississippi (100)
- Kansas (94)
- Missouri (80)
- Oklahoma (74)
- North Dakota (68)
- Wisconsin (68)
- Colorado (66)
- Illinois (65)
The states with the most tornado-related deaths in 2010 were:
- Mississippi (with 13)
- Ohio (7)
- Arkansas (6)
- Missouri (5)
- Minnesota and Oklahoma (both with 3)
How to file an insurance claim if you're a victim of a natural disaster
The III recommends several steps if your home or property is damaged during a catastrophe. Start by calling your homeowners insurance agent to find out:
- Whether the damage is covered under your policy.
- How long you have to file a claim.
- Whether your claim exceeds your deductible (the amount of loss you agree to pay before insurance kicks in).
- How long it will take to process the claim.
- Whether you'll need estimates for repairs.
Then, says the III website, you should prepare for a claims adjuster visit:
- To substantiate your loss, prepare an inventory of damaged or destroyed items and give a copy to the adjuster along with copies of any receipts. Don't throw out damaged items until the adjuster has visited. Consider photographing or videotaping the damage. "If your property was destroyed or you no longer have any records, work from memory," says the III.
- Identify structural damage to your home and other structures such as a garage, toolshed or in-ground swimming pool. Make a list of everything you want to show the adjuster -- for example, cracks in the walls and missing roof tiles. You should also get the electrical system checked. "Most insurance companies pay for these inspections," the III notes.
- Get written bids from licensed contractors. The bids should include details of the materials to be used and prices on a line-by-line basis.
- Keep copies of the lists and other documents you submit to your insurance company. Also keep copies of whatever paperwork your insurance company gives you and record the names and phone numbers of everyone to whom you speak.
The Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration (DIFP) website also has a few suggestions:
- Make temporary repairs needed to prevent further damage. "For example, a hole in the roof should be covered by a tarp or other material to keep rain out. Same for a broken car window. Otherwise, further damage will likely not be covered by your insurance policy," says the DIFP. Keep the receipts for materials you buy so you can be reimbursed.
- File a complaint with the your state's insurance department if you're unhappy with the way your insurer has handled the claim.
- Don't make permanent repairs until your home insurance company has inspected the damage. If you do, your insurance company may not reimburse you.
- Don't let contractors inspect your property if you're not watching. "Some unscrupulous companies will cause damage to drive up the repair cost, and your insurance company will likely not cover the additional cost," the DIFP says.
- Don't pay the whole repair bill in advance. Pay in full only when the work is completed according to your agreement.