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Moore, Oklahoma Tornado Most Deadly Since Joplin, Missouri 2011

Insurance losses are expected to be at least in the hundreds of millions, but it's too early to tell whether the event will exceed the $1 billion in losses of the Bridge Creek-Moore tornado of 1999.

The tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma yesterday is the deadliest event of its kind since the 2011 Joplin, Missouri tornado that killed 162 people in 2011, according to the National Weather Service. The storm, which killed at least 24 people, was part of a larger system that produced several tornadoes over the past day, which resulted in some insurance claims resources already being nearby. Mobile technology played a role in limiting loss of life, according to reports. May 20, 2013 Moore, Oklahoma tornado

Yesterday's event was not the first time Moore was hit by a powerful tornado. The 1999 Bridge Creek-Moore tornado was an F5 storm that killed 41 people. That tornado resulted in $1 billion in insured losses and 146,000 claims, according to Bob Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute.

[Related: First Major Tornado Outbreak Levels Homes, Kills 6 in Texas.]

"This storm will likely see more deaths than all of 2012 from tornadoes," Hartwig comments. "It is especially tragic in terms of where it hit, includin a school still full of children. Rated as an ES4 [on the Enhanced Fujita Scale), the storm had winds up to 200 mph — so strong that even people in shelters may not have been safe."

The last five years have been the most expensive in history, in terms of insured losses, according to Hartwig. The most expensive single year for thunderstorm-related claims — the category within which tornadoes fit, along with hail and other effects — was 2011, which featured tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which resulted respectively in losses of $7 billion and $7.5 billion for a total of $14.5 billion.

Insurers are already on the scene, with response vehicles set up in some locations, Hartwig reports. "This is something that insurers have a great deal of experience in responding to, and they are already cutting checks for temporary living expenses," he says. "Money will begin to flow into this community for temporary expenses and then for rebuilding and removal of debris."

Oklahoma City Mayor Tours Tornado Damage

It's too early to tell what insurance losses may be, Hartwig cautions. "It will no doubt be in the hundreds of millions, but whether it crosses the $1 billion threshold remains to be seen," he says.

In addition to at least 24 deaths, over 240 people were injured by yesterday's tornado. However, as devastating as the storm was in terms of human suffering and loss of life, mobile technology seems to have mitigated its impact, according to Karlyn Carnahan, an analyst with Novarica.

"It's already been widely reported that mobile technology saved many lives as the emergency alert system has switched largely to cell phones, giving people time to find shelter," Carnahan comments. "In the coming days, carriers' first response must be to speedily assure their policy holders are safe. The ability to rapidly identify, contact, and support affected policyholders will differentiate carriers, and mobile technologies will help them do that."

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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