Remembering the Stoughton Tornado

Stoughton, Wis., tornado from Aug. 18, 2005 (from http://www.crh.noaa.gov/mkx/document/tor/images/tor081805/stoughton-c.jpg).Every year when severe storm warnings are issued, I’m reminded of just how strong some of these storms can be. Back in August 2005, I had a first-hand glimpse of the damage a severe storm can cause when I helped clean up after a tornado hit my town.

On Aug. 18, 2005, an F3 tornado carved a ten-mile long, half-mile-wide swath of destruction across rural subdivisions and farms in Stoughton, Wis. When the winds stopped, 156 homes were destroyed or heavily damaged and another 84 homes were slightly damaged. Countless cars, boats and other vehicles were damaged or destroyed. Damage exceeded $35 million. Tragically, one person was killed.

In the following days, I volunteered to help with the clean-up. Let me tell you, cleaning up after a tornado is a humbling experience. In the damaged part of town, everywhere I looked there were houses reduced to piles of bricks and splintered lumber, and cars condensed into twisted hunks of sheet metal.  

During the storm, Mother Nature went out of her way to show how fickle she can be. Amidst the destruction, one house I went to seemed completely undamaged. The dining room table was still set for dinner and there was a neat pile of papers on a desk ready for attention. The kitchen however, was gone. In fact, the entire back half of the house was gone. It was as though someone took a gigantic knife and carved off the back half of the house but left the front intact and undisturbed.

Throughout the day, I overheard many interesting answers to good questions:

Q: “I thought you had brown shingles on your garage?”
A: “I do. But the garage that’s leaning against my house belongs to my neighbor down the street.”

Q: “What happened to your car?”
A: “It’s in that tree over there.”

Despite the impact the tornado made on their lives, I was amazed how some people maintained their sense of humor. One man told me he now regretted spending the extra money for 40-year shingles when he had his house re-roofed the previous year. Another commented, “I hope my wife isn’t mad that I didn’t get the dishes done.”

Before the next severe weather alert hits your area, take a few moments to look around your home and identify where you or your family may be vulnerable. Find your best place for shelter and make sure everyone knows where to go and what to do when severe weather threatens. 

Posted by Eric Wolf on Sun, Aug 18 2013 9:46 am

After the smoke clears: Stories from the Colorado Black Forest fire

With the American Family Insurance mobile CAT vehicle behind them, the Morehouses talk about their loss from the Colorado Black Forest fire and how American Family has been there for them.As the flames have been contained in the Black Forest wildfire, stories behind the statistics of homes destroyed, people displaced and acres burned are beginning to emerge.

The customer who had a large pond on his property and allowed firefighters access to it so they would have water to douse the flames if needed.

The woman who found a bird house still standing, covered in slurry and the nest of baby bluebirds alive and well with the mamma bird looking on from a nearby branch.

And the story of our customers, Kevin and Rebecca Morehouse, who suffered a total loss to their home.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Kevin and Rebecca last week and speak to them about their experience, what was saved and lost and what their plans are for the future.

The Morehouses consider themselves to be very lucky. Rebecca heard about the fire burning in the Black Forest from a coworker and rushed home, and she contacted her husband, who followed with friends from work in their pickup trucks. Together, they quickly gathered possessions that held sentimental value – family heirlooms and photos of their children, special gifts that were made for them by parents or grandparents.

Rebecca seems relieved to know that these special items were saved and can be passed on to their children and grandchildren.

The conversation then turned to what they didn’t manage to save. While Rebecca and Kevin had two hours to clear out whatever they could grab, many irreplaceable items were left behind. A portrait of their daughter, photos of their son’s sports teams, items from when their children were babies. When they were allowed to return to their home last week for a few hours, Rebecca sifted through the ashes and found the nightlight that was in her son’s room as a baby. Her face lit up when talking about that sentimental object surviving the blaze.

Despite the loss of their home and possessions, Kevin and Rebecca aren’t bitter or disgruntled. They seemed grateful. They have high praise for their agent, Nigel Cass (Colorado Springs), who called within hours of the blaze starting to check on them, as well as their adjuster, John Niemeyer, who promised to walk them through the process and “take care of them.”

And as Rebecca said, we know American Family will take care of us, and we’re with American Family Insurance for life.

The Morehouses with their agent, Nigel Cass.Echoing one another’s comments, the two seem at peace with the events of the past two weeks, knowing full well the difficult journey that lies ahead. As they sat with their arms around one another they shared how they felt blessed to still have the most important things; their children, neighbors, dog and each other.

After speaking with the two of them, I was the one feeling blessed. Not because I didn’t have to personally go through such a horrible experience, but because I work for a company that has the financial and personnel resources to get people like Kevin and Rebecca on the road to recovery. 

Editor’s note: American Family Insurance customers affected by the Colorado wildfires can report claims by contacting our 24-hour Customer Care Center, 1-800-MY-AMFAM (692-6326), their local agent or by completing our online insurance claim form. Visit our website for answers to common questions about wildfire claims.

Posted by Sandra Spann on Fri, Jun 28 2013 6:03 amSandra Spann is a strategic communications consultant for American Family Insurance.

Resurrecting dreams from the ashes of the Black Forest Fire

Colorado wildfiresThe Black Forest wildfire near Colorado Springs has grown into the most destructive in the state’s history. More than 500 homes were destroyed, including close to 50 insured by American Family Insurance.

When I heard about the Black Forest fire, I thought, “Our customers are going to need my help, and I better organize my thoughts, now!”

As I post this, we await full access into what they call the Black Forest “burn scar,” to meet with customers and inspect their properties with an eye toward identifying coverage under their policies.

Even though the authorities have not declared the area to be safe enough for full public access, we’ve already started our customers on the path to recovery. You can see photos of American Family's catastrophe team onsite in Colorado here.

I’ve met with six American Family Insurance customers whose homes were destroyed in the wildfire, at three to three-and-a-half hours per meeting. We talked about the overall claims experience, discussing the coverage available under their policies and setting expectations for upcoming steps in the claim process.

I make sure they understand all of the issues. My job is to make this as easy as possible for them. Starting over after losing your home to fire is nothing short of a major life transition, and I want that transition to be as smooth as possible. We compensate our customers for additional living expenses and advance them a portion of the personal property lost in the fire.

Empathy always is a valuable attribute for an insurance claims representative — or for any other customer service occupation, for that matter — but it’s especially important in situations like this.

Growing up, we had a total loss fire at my house. My uncle fell asleep while smoking, and we lost the entire house and everything in it. All the family photos and other things that were important to us and can’t be replaced … gone.

When I talk to our customers about their situations, I tell them “I know what you’re going through.”

The Black Forest area was special, a heavily wooded Shangri-la that served as a joyful haven for thousands of residents. It might be hard to envision amidst the heavily charred tree trunks and fire-distorted remains of homes, outbuildings and vehicles, but the Black Forest area will come back again.

My job is to help them see that their dreams are not lost; they’re only on “pause.” By treating customers with dignity, respect and compassion, and paying them fairly for their covered losses, American Family Insurance is living up to our reputation as the protector of dreams.

And I’m sure glad I can be a part of it.

Editor’s note: American Family Insurance customers affected by the Colorado wildfires can report claims by contacting our 24-hour Customer Care Center, 1-800-MY-AMFAM (692-6326), their local agent or by completing our online insurance claim form. Visit our website for answers to common questions about wildfire claims.

Posted by Dustin Theriault on Fri, Jun 21 2013 3:08 pmDustin Theriault is a property claim field senior adjuster for American Family Insurance in Denver.

Colorado Black Forest fire keeps American Family on alert

Colorado wildfire updateIt’s a familiar experience for American Family Insurance claims teams – prepared on the periphery of a natural disaster scene, anticipating the all-clear from authorities to get into the damaged area and begin helping our customers.

In this case, the Black Forest wildfire northeast of Colorado Springs already is being described in the news media as the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history.  Officials say the wildfire has caused two deaths and destroyed at least 380 homes. More than 38,000 residents have been evacuated.

As of Friday morning (June 14, 2013), American Family had received 26 claims for destroyed homes, three claims for destroyed business properties and more than 50 claims for smoke damage or additional living expenses for customers ordered to evacuate from their homes.

Overlaying the fire observations provided by law enforcement with American Family’s maps showing where our customers live, our claims teams will know where to focus once the fire subsides.

Our responders are using waiting time wisely, preparing to spring into action once authorities allow us to enter the fire zone.

  • We’ve dispatched 15 adjusters to the site with three catastrophe managers. This on-site team will be supported by adjusters at other locations, serving as additional contacts for customers who have the most severe damage.
  • We’ve set up our catastrophe response vehicle at the Colorado Springs Civic Center, and we also staffed a second evacuation center at Palmer Ridge High School.
  • And, we’re sending a second response vehicle to the area, to be stationed at one of the primary evacuation sites set by the local authorities.

As firefighters continue to battle the wildfire, American Family is poised to fulfill our role when the flames and smoke clear. We are here in Colorado Springs … and we are here to help. 

Report a claim with American Family Insurance.Editor’s note: American Family Insurance customers affected by the Colorado wildfires can report claims by contacting our 24-hour Customer Care Center, 1-800-MY-AMFAM (692-6326), their local agent or by completing our online insurance claim form. Visit our website for answers to common questions about wildfire claims

Posted by Steve Witmer on Fri, Jun 14 2013 2:20 pmSteve Witmer is a media relations manager for American Family Insurance.

New blog helps us share your stories

Helping customers in JoplinThis month, we introduced this public blog on our website called Dream Protectors, the American Family Insurance blog.

It’s a new place for us to share our American Family stories. In creating this blog, we were motivated by an internal blog we have, where employees and agents share their experiences and inspiration. Why not share the stories about how we take care of customers or ways we are involved in our communities with the world, too?

These posts will be an opportunity for you to get to know us better. From taking care of customers during a big storm (like after the Joplin tornado in 2011) to agents going the extra mile to help a customer cut down a tree, to our focus on sustainability and our support of community agriculture, it all paints a rich picture of who we are as a company, and what we stand for.

If you have any thoughts or ideas about our blog, I’d love to hear from you. Please drop me an email at mwingate@amfam.com

I hope you enjoy what you read in this space, and it gives you a little more insight into American Family. 

Posted by Michele Wingate on Wed, Oct 10 2012 7:08 pm