State Farm spokesman deployed to Oklahoma to assess tornado damage

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 | 7:32 p.m. CDT

MOORE, OKLA. — Jim Camoriano, a State Farm spokesman, was sent to Oklahoma City last week to confront the staggering losses suffered during the deadly tornado.

Camoriano, who lives in Columbia, compared the severity of the tornado's destruction to Hiroshima.

"The type of power that we are seeing — these cars are being picked up and being thrown and tossed like they are little toys," he said. "They're like missiles that have been thrown into the ground."

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Jim Camoriano stands in the path the tornado took through Moore, Okla. (Photo courtesy of Jim Camoriano)

Damage to insured property ranged from $2 billion to $5 billion, according to EQECAT Inc., a catastrophe risk modeling firm.

Camoriano arrived Tuesday in Moore, Okla., to help assist policyholders affected by the tornado that hit the town May 20. He drove alone from Columbia and joined other State Farm agents and claims representatives in the area.

He said the smell in the air was like nothing else he's ever experienced.

"You've got oil that has been soaking in the grass, rotting food  — all these elements together gives this a real distinct smell," Camoriano said. "Once you smell it, you won't forget it."

The rubble is like a blend of unidentifiable objects, he said, referring to large steel I-beams as "twisted licorice" and vehicles as "mangled pieces of metal mixed together." Sometimes he couldn't identify destroyed material as a car until he noticed the tires.

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A mangled car sits amid the rubble in a Moore, Okla., neighborhood. (Photo courtesy of Jim Camoriano)

State Farm has a national catastrophe services team that is specially trained in responding to disasters. Camoriano said team members, who deploy from across the country, will stay in affected areas for several months and work with regional insurance representatives in the rebuilding process of their customers' homes.

"What we initially did was we reached out to those hardest hit," Camoriano said.

Through State Farm’s homeowners policy, the company provided additional living expenses, such as temporary lodging and food, to those most affected.

Camoriano told a story about a woman whose house was completely swept off its foundation. The only intact document her son found amid the rubble was her State Farm policy with her agent’s name on it.

The next morning, her agent, Michell Dallal, met her at a church and delivered an additional living check. Camoriano said the document offered her a source of comfort and direction.

Camoriano worked in Joplin two years ago and said he thought the Oklahoma City tornado caused similar destruction. Both tornadoes were classified as EF5, the strongest classification.

What makes the Oklahoma City tornado unusual, he said, is the destruction of Plaza Towers Elementary School, which resulted in the deaths of seven children.

“That’s what’s very hard to come to grips with,” Camoriano said. “To see all the devastation and see crosses in front of the school as a makeshift memorial — that was very emotional.”

Camoriano is amazed at the amount of generosity he sees from the community. The willingness of the community to provide assistance, from giving out gift cards to offering to shovel debris, keeps spirits up, he said.

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Friends and neighbors form a prayer circle outside a school in Moore, Okla. (Photo courtesy of Jim Camoriano)

Along with providing temporary living essentials, State Farm employees have set up several stations where victims can file insurance claims. They have a command center in the parking lot of Moore’s First Baptist Church where people can talk to claims representatives.

State Farm has four drive-up facilities, three in Moore and one in Shawnee, Okla., where people can receive compensation for damaged vehicles. Camoriano said most of the vehicle damage is from hail.

“We inspect (the cars) right on the spot and then give them checks so they can go straight to the repair shop,” he said. “It’s very efficient.”

For damaged homes, State Farm assigns a claims representative to each of its policyholders who experienced minor to severe damage. After an initial inspection, the representative will work with the homeowner and local contractors to create a plan for rebuilding.

Camariano said this process can take months. He plans to stay in Moore for about another week before returning to Columbia.

He said he is encouraged by the immense amount of support from the community.

“The grief for many is overwhelming," Camoriano said, "but so is the community’s response."


All that remains of this former home in Moore, Okla., is the brick fireplace. (Photo courtesy of Jim Camoriano)

Supervising editor is Shaina Cavazos.

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