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After The Tornadoes, Insurance Adjusters Take Center Stage

Stella M. Chávez
Structure and vehicle victims of the weekend tornadoes

The Insurance Council of Texas says insured losses from the North Texas tornadoes will top $1.2 billion, and could go even higher. As folks in the hardest-hit areas scramble to line up replacement housing, insurance adjusters are becoming central figures in their lives. 

How does that process work, and what can policy holders do before the next storm?

In Garland and Rowlett, one-third of the nearly 1,700 damaged homes are either uninhabitable or destroyed. Garland’s Landmark Village West Apartments, with 292 units, has been deemed unsafe or off limits.

Insurance adjusters are busy.

“They’re handing money out right now. Insurance adjusters are authorized to turn over checks immediately," says Lynne McChristian with the Insurance Information Institute, an industry-funded nonprofit.

She flew into Dallas Tuesday to help with recovery.

“And usually those first checks are for what’s called additional living expenses,” McChristian says. “If someone’s home is damaged that they can’t live in, this is part of your homeowner’s insurance, but it pays for you to live elsewhere while your home is being restored.”

What if your home’s OK, but it needs repairs here and there to make it safe? Go ahead, says Ben Gonzalez, with the Texas Department of Insurance. But don’t make the repairs permanent if you want coverage.

“You can cover up windows and cover up holes to keep any further rain out, put up plywood to prevent theft,” Gonazalez says. “If you’re going to file an insurance claim, the insurance adjuster has to see that damage before they’re going to want to pay.”  

What about renters? That’s Cathrine Noble’s situation. She, her husband and daughter lived in the Landmark West apartments.

“We only had renters' insurance,” Noble says. “So our car, which is totaled – ‘cause it’s under a tree right now -- it’s not being replaced. Everything in the apartment should be replaced. They said it would be about three days for them to someday call back.”

Hold on, McChristian says. That car may be covered.

“If your car’s damaged in a storm and you have comprehensive coverage, which over three quarters of the people do have, then you will have your insurance pay for that damage," McChristian says.

She says comprehensive auto coverage is something everyone - not just storm survivors - should think about.

For the future? Prepare.

McChristian is from Florida – hurricane country.  Too often, after big storms, she hears people say things like "the water’s never been this high."

"The winds have never been this strong; we’ve never had this much rain before,” McChristian says people say. “That’s all we hear on the news. But the fact is, from my perspective, what I do,  I come out and say those things happen all the time.”

McChristian says everyone should make an inventory so you’re ready before the next storm. 

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.