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As rescuers searched for survivors in tornado-ravaged Moore, Okla., insurance industry experts said they expect Monday's massive tornado to result in large insured losses.
As of Tuesday, 24 people were confirmed dead, including nine children, and more than 200 people were injured as a result of the massive 2-mile-wide tornado that razed areas near Oklahoma City.
The city of Moore, with a population of about 55,000, suffered much of the devastation, where two schools and a hospital were leveled or nearly leveled.
The National Weather Service preliminarily assigned the tornado a category EF4 rating, with winds estimated to have reached between 166 mph and 200 mph.
Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., a unit of OGE Corp., said in a statement that approximately 38,000 customers were without power Monday evening, with nearly half of the outages in Moore.
While this year has been an inactive year in terms of storms and tornadoes, and insured losses have been relatively low compared with the past couple of years, Monday's tornado is expected to be a relevant loss event, insurance industry experts said.
“The picture looks like a real relevant loss event,” but it is too early to estimate insured losses, said Peter Hoeppe, head of geo risks research and the Corporate Climate Center at Munich Reinsurance Co., based in Munich.
“2013 has been a rather inactive year in terms of convective storms and tornadoes,” he said. “Now unfortunately … we have seen one big outbreak with a real intense tornado and the bad luck that it hit a populated area,” he said.
But lasting effects on the U.S. insurance market from Monday's tornado appear to be minimal, Mr. Hoeppe said.
“By now, (overall) losses have been much lower compared to the last years. I don't think that this will have a strong impact on the insurance market for the U.S. Perhaps on some local insurers, it may,” he said.
“An EF4 or an EF5 tornado occurs almost every year,” Mr. Hoeppe said. “We have seen in total for this season six EF5 tornadoes. So this is nothing unusual.”
During May 2011, more than 1,000 tornadoes were recorded, Mr. Hoeppe said. “Now we are at a level of 300, so it's one-third of this activity of 2011.”
Insurance market sources said they also do not expect the Oklahoma tornado will be a big major loss for the London market.
Monday's storm was compared with a powerful string of storms in 1999 that also hit Moore as well as other parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and Georgia.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, those storms resulted in $1.5 billion in insured losses, or $2 billion in today's dollars, with damage to Oklahoma resulting in $1 billion, or $1.4 billion in today's dollars).
Standard homeowners and business insurance policies cover wind damage to the structure of insured buildings and their contents caused by tornadoes and thunderstorms, III said Tuesday in a statement.
Direct damage to businesses from a tornado is covered under business interruption insurance, III said.
“While replacing and repairing damaged properties may not be a high priority at the moment, the insurance industry will play a significant role in rebuilding Moore and other parts of Oklahoma just as it did following the storms in 1999,” III President Robert Hartwig said in the statement.
Tornadoes and severe thunderstorms caused $15 billion in U.S. insured losses last year, III said. In 2011, that number stood at $25 billion because of the two costliest tornado events in U.S. history in Alabama and Missouri.
The insurance industry needs to better model for the risks presented by tornadoes to insured properties in the United States, Lloyd's of London said in a report Wednesday.