NEWCASTLE — For the hundreds of people who lost homes in May's tornadoes, the shock of the event is being replaced by the endless details of restoring normalcy to their lives.
Newcastle resident Shelly Codner knew her home was gone before she emerged from her storm shelter May 20.
“In a matter of minutes, this beautiful neighborhood, this 3,800-square foot home, four vehicles and my husband's business were gone,” she said.
It took days at her sister's house in southwest Oklahoma City for the reality of what happened to sink in, and in some ways it still hasn't, she said.
Hers was one of 1,307 homes destroyed in the storms, according to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. Another 1,506 homes in nine counties sustained damage.
Codner has spent days dealing with insurance agents, Federal Emergency Management Agency employees, Small Business Administration consultants and American Red Cross volunteers.
After the tornado, Codner went to the Red Cross multiagency resource center at Westmoore High School. She waited for six hours before her application was started. When she went back the next day, her handwritten Red Cross file was lost.
The center provided immediate assistance or referrals for housing, transportation, food and other needs.
But the needs of victims sometimes outstrip resources. Codner has been paying $350 a week in rental car charges because her four cars were either lost or destroyed. Her policy didn't include a rental provision because she assumed if one was damaged she would have three others to drive.
She received a quick settlement from her insurance company for her home and contents, but has been waiting for insurance money for the vehicles.
More than 70,000 people have filed insurance claims for recent storms, Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak said.
Debra Shelley lost her modular home in the tornado and assumed she had full coverage. She was shocked when her insurance company said her mobile home with six bedrooms and three bathrooms was worth $149,000, but because of depreciation she would only receive $65,000.
“This for me is trauma also because I'm in a world I don't understand, Shelley said.
Consumers don't always understand their insurance policies, Doak said.
For example, policies may only cover small portions of specific expensive items, Doak said. Large amounts of expensive jewelry, guns, or electronics should be covered with floaters — specific insurance provisions to protect an item of stated value.
Homeowners need to keep a photo or video home inventory accompanied by a detailed list of all the contents in their homes, Doak said.
Once they've done that, they need to store the inventory in a safe place.
People who do lose their homes in tornadoes have to keep paying their mortgages because the mortgage goes with the property, not with the home, Doak said.
But depending on a customer's policy, insurance should cover additional living expenses or loss of use which can include food and housing for a stipulated time.
“The theory of insurance is that you're made whole,” Doak said.
Codner's insurance company does cover temporary housing for up to one year as she looks for a new home or tries to rebuild on her own property.
She hasn't found anything yet because most places won't accommodate her dogs.
She has spent days looking for a new home with a Realtor and hasn't been able to find a house of the same size on the same five acres for the amount of money her insurance gave her.
But rebuilding presents new problems.
“We're tearing houses down faster than we can rebuild them,” said Robert Crout, Central Oklahoma Home Builders Association president.
The demand for contractors and home building supplies has skyrocketed in central Oklahoma.
He urges homeowners to be patient when looking for a contractor, and spend the time necessary to find the most reliable and experienced company for the job.
Codner gave up on finding a contractor and continues looking for a new home instead.
“I am so mentally exhausted, I'm so overwhelmed that I cannot function,” Codner said.
“I feel like if I was to pick up the phone and accomplish one thing it would be the greatest feeling.”