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Thousands Of Insurance Adjusters Descend On Moore, Okla.


In Oklahoma today, state emergency managers said that Monday's tornado destroyed more than 1,100 homes; thousands more were damaged. Many people in the hard-hit city of Moore spent the day meeting with insurance adjusters, to get money to start rebuilding. NPR's Ted Robbins reports it won't be quick or easy for homeowners to bounce back.

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Juanita Wright rode out the Moore tornado with Daisy Mae, her dachshund, in the underground shelter in her garage. When the twister passed, she unlatched the shelter door and looked around the neighborhood.

JUANITA WRIGHT: And I couldn't see any people. And first thing I thought when I got out of there - oh, my God, it's the second coming, and I've been left.

ROBBINS: Her neighbors slowly came back, and her house still stood, but it was split in two.

WRIGHT: It shook so much and did everything, and all the walls went. And I kind of think it's probably a goner.

ROBBINS: She wasn't able to get back to the area until today. So she is finally filing a claim at the State Farm Insurance response center outside the First Baptist Church of Moore.

State Farm has more than 350 people here responding to the disaster. Thousands of other insurance company employees are working out of generator-powered satellite trucks and buses. If a company has the word farm, state or mutual in its name, it's here. Rick Beckler is a claims team manager.

RICK BECKLER: The customers will walk up to our claim reps, and they don't have anything because everything is blown away. They don't have any documentation. They may not even have their driver's license.

ROBBINS: Representatives look up their policy by name. Tornados are covered under wind damage. But Beckler says it's harder to verify the contents of a home.

BECKLER: One thing that we encourage our customers to do is to, you know, videotape the property that they have in their home. And that helps them document, not only document what they have, but it also helps them remember what they had.

ROBBINS: The video or a list needs to be kept in a safe place, obviously, like a bank safe deposit box. Otherwise, homeowners have to rely on their memories. Insurers have been writing checks all week to help people get temporary housing, food and clothing. That emergency aid is a different process than a claim for a home, so Beckler says people should not think it's a settlement.

BECKLER: There is a misnomer out there that if you accept the check from an insurance company, that that's a release saying you can't get anymore. And that's not true.

ROBBINS: Amy Bach says it's fine to take money from an insurance company.

AMY BACH: Give the insurance company a chance to do the right thing, but don't be a pushover.

ROBBINS: Bach heads United Policyholders, a nonprofit center for insurance consumers. She says as long as the check doesn't say final payment on it, you're OK. And before a policyholder takes a final check, she says, they should wait, perhaps months until a reputable and preferably local contractor tallies everything. Whether you have enough coverage to replace everything is another matter.

BACH: And particularly in Oklahoma, a lot of people in the last year or so have bought reduced coverage for their roof replacement. And some people probably don't even know that they did that.

ROBBINS: Amy Bach says insurance companies have been tightening coverage while keeping premiums down because most people shop for insurance by price. Homeowners can fight, of course. But Bach says there are hundreds, maybe thousands of people who have no insurance: renters.

BACH: Renters insurance is a bargain. The problem is insurance companies don't really market it very aggressively.

ROBBINS: Nor do companies advertise that premiums may go up after a disaster like this one. That's been the pattern. But in the Midwest at least, she says there are usually plenty of companies to choose from. Ted Robbins, NPR News, Moore, Oklahoma.



You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As supervising editor for Arts and Culture at NPR based at NPR West in Culver City, Ted Robbins plans coverage across NPR shows and online, focusing on TV at a time when there's never been so much content. He thinks "arts and culture" encompasses a lot of human creativity — from traditional museum offerings to popular culture, and out-of-the-way people and events.

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