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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Rebuilding A Life: Tornado Recovery Is A Long Road For The Underinsured

Lara Solt
KERA news special contributor
Lindsay Diaz checks out the damage at her Rowlett duplex. Her son Arian looks through the hole in the roof.

One Crisis Away: Rebuilding A Life follows four families on the financial edge, trying to recover from the Christmas weekend tornadoes.

Even with insurance, storm-related expenses can pile up fast. Rowlett resident Lindsay Diaz knows that firsthand—the duplex she owned was blown apart on Dec. 26. Now, she’s trying to juggle a full-time job, a new baby, and the challenge of rebuilding her house and her life.

One big problem for her is underinsurance.

Even a month after moving in, Lindsay Diaz isn’t completely settled at her rental house in Forney. There are still boxes in the kitchen, some random furniture on the porch. Eight-month-old Arian doesn’t seem to mind as he leaps happily in a bouncy chair.

Living Through A Tornado

She still can’t believe how close they came to disaster. Diaz, her boyfriend and the baby were all home in Rowlett the night of the storm. When the weather reports turned serious, her boyfriend took her and Arian into the bathtub.

“All of the sudden he said, ‘here it comes,’ and sure enough, ten seconds later, it came roaring through the house," she says.

Diaz felt the tub lift off the ground and slam back down. For a moment, she thought she might get swept away.

“I remembered thinking oh my gosh what am I going to do? Am I going to be able to hold the baby? Is the tornado going to take him from me? Is this going to hurt?" she recalls.

When the storm finally passed Diaz saw what so many North Texans did the night of December 26th. A wrecked house full of broken furniture with holes in the walls and part of the roof peeled off. She was stunned, and she stayed that way.

“It didn’t fully hit me until a couple of weeks later and I just broke down," she says.

A New Normal

Now that she’s had time to get used to her new reality, she’s not numb anymore. She’s worried; about money.

“That’s all I think about. I don’t have a big savings account. I actually had to get into that while being out of my home.”

Diaz owned her side of the duplex and has homeowner’s insurance. It looks like her reimbursement check won’t quite cover the repairs she’ll need to make.

“What should I do with the money I get from the insurance? Should I pay the mortgage? Should I use the rest of the money to repair, which is not going to be enough? I’m homeless. I don’t have a home and I need to figure out what I’m going to do to get it back," she says.

Insurance troubles are common after disaster strikes. According to the research firm CoreLogic, 60 percent of American homeowners are underinsured by an average of 17 percent. That means if a $150,000 home is a total loss, the typical homeowner would be short by more than $25,000 when the time came to rebuild.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.