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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Insurers in Greensburg find little left to assess

BY JERRY SIEBENMARK
The Wichita Eagle

Tony Kimmi has worked a lot of natural disasters in his nearly 13 years with Farm Bureau Insurance.

But nothing prepared him for what we saw in Greensburg a couple of days ago.

"Unbelievably devastated," said Kimmi, business center director for Farm Bureau's Kansas state office. "Most of our catastrophes in Kansas are hail related. This is just so widespread through town, it's unlike anything I've ever seen."

Kimmi is among hundreds of insurance supervisors, adjusters and agents from dozens of companies who have descended on Greensburg and nearby communities days after a tornado struck Friday night.

They came in RVs equipped with computers and satellite communications, prepared to first assess the property damage to their policyholders and then cut checks for short-term living expenses or pay settlements in full.

What most of them learned quickly was that there wasn't a lot of time needed to determine property damage.

"A lot of times it was assessing a pile of rubble," said Steve Witmer, an American Family Insurance spokesman who is in Greensburg with the company's catastrophe team. "For many of the properties we insured in Greensburg, there really wasn't a lot to assess."

It's for that reason that Joe Moseley, a Shelter Insurance spokesman, said that the claims process is moving more quickly than it has in other cases when a town has been struck by a natural disaster.

One thing insurance companies initially had problems with was finding their policyholders. Many companies went to the shelter in nearby Haviland, while others tried to reach policyholders through advertisements on local television, radio and newspapers.

Once authorities allowed the companies to bring their RVs into Greensburg, they started to get more claims.

Shelter officials said their preliminary estimates for payouts to Greensburg customers will total at least $3 million, including buildings, homes and cars.

Kimmi said early estimates are that Farm Bureau will pay out more than $34 million in claims.

That's for claims in Greensburg as well as Claflin and Ellinwood, parts of which were also hit by tornadoes, he said.

American Family estimates $6 million in payouts in Greensburg, though that figure could rise.

The insurer had taken about 120 claims as of Wednesday, but Ken Muth, a spokesman at the company's headquarters in Madison, Wis., said American Family expects to get between 250 and 300 claims.

In disaster situations, Muth said, policyholders with homes or cars that are partially damaged will often wait to file a claim. That's partly because they feel those who have lost everything should get help first, he said.

But insurance company officials said policyholders shouldn't wait because their companies are in Greensburg and Haviland in full force.

State Farm, for instance, has about 50 staff members in the area, said spokeswoman Tara Griffith.

"We actually have four mobile units set up in Pratt, Haviland, at Main and (U.S.) 54 in Greensburg and Mullinville," she said.

State Farm has an agent who had an office in Greensburg, Griffith said. The agent's office and home was destroyed, but the agent and her family are OK.

"She took a day to figure out her own personal (situation) and now she's working in Greensburg," Griffith said.

State Farm did not have an estimated payout figure for the Greensburg tornado. Griffith said it had policies for homes there that were insured for between $30,000 and $300,000.

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or jsiebenmark@wichitaeagle.com.

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