Check insurance coverage before tornadoes hit, officials urge

Mary Ann Schissler
Homeowner Mary Ann Schissler's north Minneapolis home was damaged during the tornado. She had just reinstated her homeowners insurance two weeks before the storm. It took nearly $100,000 to fix her home after the tornado, she said, most of which was covered by insurance.
MPR photo/Brandt Williams

On the afternoon of May 22, 2011, Mary Ann Schissler was at home reading the Sunday paper when she heard the emergency sirens.

Schissler tried to turn on the television to see what was going on, but the power was out.

"I went to the basement for about 30 seconds to check on something, came back up; didn't realize what had happened and opened the front door to the porch and there was debris all over the floor," Schissler said. "And then I looked up and there was no ceiling. I was looking at the sky."

In an instant the tornado ripped away part of her roof and knocked over her chimney. Schissler says she couldn't get out of her front yard because it was full of uprooted trees. Not only did Schissler escape serious injury, she escaped financial tragedy.

Earlier in the year, Schissler had been in the process of switching insurers and went for a while without any coverage. She got a new policy just two weeks before the storm hit.

This year, severe weather started early and state and local officials are reminding Minnesotans how to react when violent weather strikes. They say this is a chance for homeowners and renters to make sure they are up to date with their insurance policies.

"I was really, really lucky to have the insurance. It was during the winter when there were two or three months when I didn't have any insurance," Schissler said. "Not only does one not expect a tornado to come through, but any major disaster like that."

Schissler's insurance company covered just over $90,000 of the $100,000 worth of repairs.

Her story serves as an important lesson Minnesota Commerce, said Commissioner Mike Rothman. He said storms can change a person's life in a blink of an eye.

"Again a reminder on today's tornado drill, check your insurance," Rothman said. "And one other important item would be to make sure you have a list of your property so if a claim happens, you are prepared to be able to respond to it."

Renters as well as homeowners should check on their coverage, Rothman said. Unspecifically, Rothmans said a significant amount of tornado victims were underinsured when the storm hit. So far, he said insurers have paid out nearly $64 million in claims for damage stemming from the storms that swept through Minneapolis and Fridley nearly a year ago.

There are still remnants of the tornado damage on Schissler's block and many others in north Minneapolis. Most visible is the lack of trees. There are still homes with roof damage covered by blue tarps.

Chad Schwitters is executive director of Urban Homeworks, a faith-based group that launched a massive volunteer effort to help victims immediately after the storm. He said 113 buildings in north Minneapolis have what are called open roof orders.

"Of those, 31 of those are in process that we know of — of fixing those damaged roofs. Thirty-four of the 113 are occupied," Schwitters said. "Of the 34 that are occupied, only 10 of those, to our knowledge, have been totally unresponsive and we have been unable to get some traction on getting those roofs repaired."

Nearly half of the buildings with open roof orders are vacant, Schwitters said. The properties were either foreclosed on before the storm, or the people who lived there just left sometime after the tornado, he said.

The storm didn't drive Schissler from the home her family has owned since it was built in 1921. But she said she was close to becoming the last of her family to live in it.

"I was told we were about this close to having it demolished," Schissler said. "And more than one person said, 'well, why don't you just let it go.' And I just couldn't do that. I wanted to have it in the family."

City officials say nearly 3,000 permits have been pulled for nearly $30 million in tornado related repairs. They say more than 200 properties sustained major damage. Most of those buildings have been repaired or demolished.

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