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Friday, 29 April 2011 18:41

Tornadoes Devastate South: Halting Local Automakers' Plants, Inundating Insurers

Tornadoes that ripped across states in the southeast portion of the US brought destruction April 27. States hit were Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia and Arkansas. Alabama was the hardest hit with over half of the fatalities. As of April 28 the confired death toll sits at 250.

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"It looked like it was probably a mile wide," Birmingham Mayor William Bell said of the funnel cloud to CNN. Tuscaloosa, AL, mayor Walter Maddox predicted it would take months for the town to recover.

President Barack Obama had already expressed condolences by phone to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and approved his request for emergency federal assistance on April 28.

In Hueytown, AL, shop owner Jason Wilson was in his business--Jimmy's Auto--when he heard the tornado warning sirens. He gathered his family, including his two children, and decided to ride out the storm in the shop.

About an hour afterward, Wilson stood in the parking lot, stunned, looking at the roof of the store. The roof had been blown off the building as they huddled inside, he said.

"We was fixing to go home and heard the siren," he said to "We took cover. It's about all you can do. And then it just blew the roof off."


Wilson, his wife, his father and his two children escaped without a scratch.

Coats Auto Body and Paint in Raleigh, NC, experienced an intense tornado on April 16 that caused major damage to the shop.
"Even though the building has been condemned and is now gone, we are blessed," said Co-Owner Tana Malerba, "No one was in the building at the time that the tornado hit. We also found a temporary location 6 miles down the road from where we were located while we rebuild."

Between Coats' employees and local vendors Coats was able to move their business to neighboring Garner, NC, within 8 days. Malerba said the business is just waiting on some outside vendors to complete their work before the shop will be back running at 100%. The Garner location will be a temporary home for the business until they can rebuild their original Raleigh location.

Insurers also began the daunting task of tallying the home and auto damages of their clients on April 29.

Alabama Insurance Commissioner Jim Riding said that he is reaching out to the state’s property insurers to provide a coordinated response to the storms as soon as possible. “We want to hit the ground running to deliver an effective response to all Alabamians affected by these tragic storms,” he said to Insurance Journal. “As soon as the companies settle on locations for their disaster response headquarters, we will share that information with the public.”

State Farm Spokesperson Jim McCullen said that said — by April 28 — the insurer already had 3,300 claims in Alabama and the count continues to rise, according to Insurance Journal. He said that the company was somewhat fortunate in that it already had teams working in Arkansas in the wake of a series of tornadoes that went through the South Central portion of the country in early April and a quick response should ensue.

The dangerous conditions also halted production at the Toyota and Mercedes-Benz plants in Alabama as of April 28.

A Mercedes plant spokeswoman said April 29 that Mercedes had halted operations because suppliers were unable to deliver parts due to the storms, according to the Tuscaloosa News.

A spokeswoman for the automaker also told Automotive News the plant would remain down until May 2 following the tornado.

Toyota spokesman Mike Goss said the engine plant stopped work April 27 when it lost power. He said the power could be out at least through May 1, according to Automotive News.

Other automotive factories in the region, including Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama in Montgomery, and Honda of Alabama Manufacturing in Lincoln reported no direct damage from the tornadoes. Although representatives for Honda said the automaker is evaluating the storms impact on their suppliers all across Alabama, which may affect the company's output further down the road.

Tornado warnings also spread into the northeast, where storms with high winds knocked out power for thousands, closed roads and caused damage in some areas of Pennsylvania and New York state.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation also said downed trees and wires, as well as flooding, closed several roads in northeastern Pennsylvania, where several hundred customers also lost power in the Poconos. The winds also damaged buildings in the area.

New York is experiencing flooding and bridge washouts due to heavy rain as well as downed trees and missing roofs from high winds. The hardest hit areas of New York state were Syracuse and the Lake Placid area in Essex County.

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