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A year ago Saturday, one of the most powerful tornadoes to hit the United States ripped through western Kentucky with 190-mph winds, destroying multiple homes, businesses, a candle factory, churches, a county courthouse and a city hall — along with an insurance agency’s entire office.

Peel & Holland’s Tom Wheeler at the Mayfield office after the storm. (Photos courtesy P&H)

“Initially, the biggest challenge was just finding new office space because so much of the community was destroyed. So many businesses were also looking for new locations,” said Roy Riley, president of Peel & Holland Insurance, which saw its Mayfield branch office ripped to shreds on the evening of Dec. 10, 2021.

On top of the loss to the business, the agency, one of the largest and oldest in the area, with seven branch offices, was swamped with an estimated $60 million in claims to work through, Riley said. Peel & Holland handles the property insurance for a large Mayfield bank, which was heavily damaged in the storm, and it administered the coverage for the ruined courthouse and the Mayfield City Hall, which are insured by the Kentucky Association of Counties and the Kentucky League of Cities insurance pools. The agency also insured two Mayfield churches that were demolished in the storm.

Roy Riley

“It was pretty incredible,” Riley said, referring to the amount of damage to Mayfield and the volume and value of claims that his agency had to respond to.

Twelve months after the EF4-rated storm hit, Riley considers himself and his family-run agency to be fortunate. While 57 people in the region were killed, and many businesses are still rebuilding, Peel & Holland staff were uninjured and the firm was able to lease new office space in Mayfield within a few weeks. Although its computer systems were ruined in the twister, the agency’s files were fully backed up, and no policyholder data was lost, Riley said.

The agency, founded in 1924, later found a larger work space to lease, and it may eventually consider new offices.

Peel & Holland workers cleaning up after the tornado.

“Longer term, the challenge is doing what we can to help the community continue to recover,” he said. “Because it is a long, slow process for the community.”

He found that most policyholders were adequately insured, but some have been surprised by the high price of rebuilding, thanks to the rising cost of construction, nationwide.

The terrible storm has left Riley, his team and the Mayfield community at least a little traumatized, he noted.

“Anytime severe weather is predicted now, you can sense the stress it creates,” he said. “The post-traumatic stress symptoms and all that. It brings back memories of what the community went through.”

Riley also took a minute to acknowledge that while his business lost office space, it was insured, and agencies in the paths of other storms have fared far worse. In southwest Florida, for example, several insurance agents saw significant damage to their offices and to their own homes after Hurricane Ian made landfall in September.

The heavily damaged Mayfield First United Methodist Church’s century-old building (AP Photo/Audrey Jackson)

“It’s so sad to see what happened in the hurricane down there,” Riley said.

Top photo: The demolished agency in downtown Mayfield, shortly after the tornado. (Courtesy Peel & Holland)

Topics
Catastrophe
Natural Disasters
Windstorm
Numbers
Kentucky

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