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Friday, 23 May 2014 19:59

Deadly Tornadoes Caused by Massive Storm Hitting 20 States, At Least 40 Deaths, $1 Billion in Damages

The series of storms that wreaked havoc across much of the United States in April 2014, rank as the first billion-dollar economic loss event of 2014 that can be attributed to thunderstorms, according to Aon Benfield, the world’s leading reinsurance intermediary’s monthly Global Catastrophe Recap report. At least 40 people were killed by flash flooding and severe weather during the storms, which included nearly 70 confirmed tornadoes across more than 20 states in the Plains, Mississippi Valley, Southeast, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic regions.

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Insured losses due to the multi-day outbreak will likely end up in the hundreds of millions of dollars, Aon Benfield said.

Employees of Auto Glass Now in Jackson, MS, escaped serious injury or death just minutes before a tornado leveled the automotive glass company on April 28, 2014, according to regional manager John Ketchum. The shop was pretty much a total loss, but the company has leased a new building and is back in business already, he says.

“[Employees at the shop] called me as I was on my way,” Ketchum explains. “They were concerned because the weather was getting bad and tornado alerts were being issued. They were listening to the radio, but none of us realized the severity of the storm. When the alarms [warning sirens] went off, I told them to leave. About 20 minutes later the building was gone. All we could salvage was a chair.”

The employees are safe and their homes were not damaged, Ketchum added, but one manager lost both family vehicles.

“Basically, I got there and saw all the damage. I gathered everybody together and assured them they still have a job with us and they aren’t going anywhere. I was lucky to find the building. I called the owner [Tony Hakimian] and told him the extent of the damage. He said to tell everybody we were taking care of their pay for the week. We did not want them worrying. I took the employees out to dinner and Tony bought these guys new tools,” he explains.

Ketchum and the owner were able to find a new building and sign a new lease quickly.

“We are so fortunate that we found these people a new home for the business. In about an hour, we had a new lease signed,” he says. “The next day the employees were back to work. We’re waiting for the phones to be hooked up and we are almost ready to do mobile repair and replacements. We have vehicles being delivered today,” Ketchum says.

The tornado that leveled the facility was part of a larger storm system that caused widespread destruction in the state.

At least three tornadoes smashed homes and businesses, flipped trucks over on highways, and injured a still unknown number of people in Mississippi and Alabama as the massive storm system passed over several states in the South, also threatening to unleash severe thunderstorms, damaging hail, and flash floods.

FEMA reported that 15 of the 30 tornadoes on April 27, 2014, struck Arkansas, with five in Iowa, four in Kansas, three in Nebraska, and one each in Louisiana, Missouri, and Oklahoma.

People in the path of the system were on edge as the National Weather Service posted tornado watches and warnings around Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia. Forecasters said the system was the latest onslaught of severe weather that triggered deadly tornadoes in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Iowa on April 27, 2014, killing at least 40 people.

Arkansas was the hardest-hit state on the first day of the tornado outbreak, and an EF4 tornado roared through Mayflower, Vilonia, and other nearby towns.

The storm was so huge it was visible from space, photographed by weather satellites that showed tumultuous clouds arcing across much of the South.

The Florida Panhandle was hit with up to two feet of rain in a 24-hour period causing widespread flooding, washing away roads, and requiring helicopter and boat rescues. Florida Governor Rick Scott said that officials received around 300 calls for rescue from stranded residents. A 10-mile stretch of I-10 was closed because of flooding, leaving people stranded for hours. Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for the panhandle.

Aon Benfield also attributed economic losses of $950 million to a large hailstorm that hit the Denton, TX, metro area in April 2014, an event that generated insured losses of about $650 million. That storm also caused widespread damage in parts of the Plains, Midwest, and Mississippi Valley.

According to remarks made in February 2014, by Insurance Information Institute president Robert Hartwig, 80 percent of U.S. natural disaster-related insurance claims’ payouts in 2013 was attributable to tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, accounting for $10.27 billion.

Oklahoma incurred the most tornado-related damages in 2013, Hartwig said, with nearly $2 billion in payouts, many of which were from a series of tornadoes in May 2013.

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