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A town full of hope

Joplin, five years after the destruction


May 22 marked the five-year anniversary of the historic and deadly Joplin, Missouri, tornado. Read the story and watch a video to hear memories and reflections from American Family customers, employees and Joplin agent Derek Holmes.

Mass chaos. Devastation. Like a scene out of a war movie.

That’s how American Family Agent Derek Holmes describes his initial impressions as he arrived in Joplin around 6:20 p.m. on Sunday, May 22, 2011. After hearing of a possible hail storm, Derek, an agent for only a year a half, headed to his office to get a jump start on the following day’s work. But as he drove over the crest of the hill leading into the city, the nightmare ahead stopped him in his tracks. Arriving only minutes after the tornado hit, Derek and his wife spent the rest of the night helping survivors.

Thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed. Derek’s agency was one of them.

“I parked on the side of the road and started walking towards my office,” says Derek. “I remember thinking, ‘My office should be here somewhere.’ Without realizing, we had actually walked a block past it. My office was completely gone.”

American Family responds

In the darkest hours, American Family came together. Claims adjusters and other employees, agents and volunteers came from nearly every state to help. Because phone lines were down, most insureds were unable to directly reach their agent’s office. Nearly every claim and policy change was handled by Claims and Sales and Service Operations care center employees.

Martha Rule, claim customer care center auto representative, was one of many who helped Joplin residents.

“Empathy is everything,” Martha says. “It’s not just about filling out every box on the screen, but also letting customers express their emotions, and reminding them that we care.”

One of the customers Martha assisted, Steve Leatherman, a customer of Derek’s, described her as having “the most calming spirit,” and on several occasions, expressed his desire to thank her in person.

Seeing clearly after the rain

Five years after the catastrophic storm, Joplin residents have proved resilient by rebuilding their beautiful town, but the scars from May 22, 2011, continue to remind people of the tragic event. Tall, mature trees are nonexistent. Potholes cover the roads from countless semi-trucks that hauled away debris. And yet, the largest change of all occurred in the people.

“People used to get so upset if their kitchen pipe burst,” says Property Claims Field Senior Adjuster Mark Vicidomini, a Joplin native who handled many of the tornado claims. “Now, we’re different. It put everything into perspective. We still have a home. We’re still alive. A burst pipe is not a big deal.”

American Family is remembered as the insurance company that arrived immediately, paid claims in record time (some in less than two days), and remained in Joplin after all others left. Derek, other local American Family agents and company employees are known for the exceptional care and service they gave to their customers.

“When someone asks me, ‘Why American Family?’ I respond with, ‘Ask our customers who lost something in the tornado. After that, you’ll understand why. The people in Joplin know American Family has their best interest at heart,” Derek concludes. “But most of all, they know we’ll deliver on our promise.”

After the storm, Joplin, a town full of hope, dreamed for a sunnier tomorrow. Five years later, American Family helped make that dream come true.

After effects of May 22, 2011:

161 lives lost

1,150 injuries

7,829 homes damaged/destroyed

18,000 cars destroyed

1,308 family pets lost

500 businesses damaged

5,000 jobs affected

American Family received more than 2,300 auto, property, commercial and farm/ranch claims with an estimated $100 million payout.

Click here to watch American Family customers, employees and Joplin agent Derek Holmes share their memories five years later.