I will never forget it. It was July 18th, 1996, and the meteorologists were all over the news talking of severe weather, including strong tornadoes. That’s the kind of news a property adjuster watches closely – not just for your family’s safety, but because it is an indicator of what the next few months of your professional life will entail. I started to ready myself for the next day’s work, as I anticipated getting calls early to head off somewhere in my home state, to help those most acutely affected by storm damage. My role at the time was as a Regional General Adjuster, which typically meant lots of travel, but this time it sounded like I would be working close to home – boots on the ground.
The F5 tornado hit the 327-home village of Oakfield, WI around 7:15 PM causing $39.5 million in damage (1996 USD), injuring 12, and killing 1 person. Around 110 homes were either destroyed or severely damaged. A state of emergency was declared, and the National Guard was called in to keep order, clean up debris, and help the community members.
When I drove up to the Village that day, I was greeted by one of the National? Guard members asking what business I had in Oakfield. As I sat there with my mouth agape, the landscape around me looked war-ravaged, but against the backdrop of a sunny day. Trees were stripped bare, building materials were scattered, and millions of cans (from the damaged canning plant) were scattered everywhere. I told the Guard member that I was a property adjuster arriving to help members of the community restore their lives. He pointed me to the side of a debris covered road, where I could park my car and walk into the village.
Trekking through the debris, I remember seeing people and families looking at me with hope – finally, there was someone there to help them. And after about 30 minutes of hiking, I was finally able to identify the location of my first claim of the day. The family (consisting of a husband, pregnant wife, and a three-year-old son) was sitting on a partially smashed picnic table as their house, a “remodeled” funeral home, was leaning and clearly not structurally safe.
As I walked up, the female greeted me with a hug and sobbed on my shoulder, so grateful that I was there to help them find a glimmer of hope. First, we sat and talked about their horrific ordeal and then we talked about the future and what it would look like for her family as their home would have to be torn down. With some understanding of the process, it was obvious that the family started feeling a bit better about their outlook. As I got up to leave, the wife let out a laugh as she noticed that a pair of her pregnancy underwear was caught in in the branches of a tree. She hugged her family and said, “with good insurance, houses and underwear can be replaced, and luckily, the love of a family is irreplaceable.”