Irma to cost in­sur­ers mil­lions but it won’t be the worst ever

The Palm Beach Post - - HURRICANE IRMA - By Charles El­more

A true pic­ture of the costs from Hur­ri­cane Irma may not emerge for weeks or months as Florid­i­ans be­gin to as­sess a swath of dam­age as wide as the state, but es­ti­mates in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math Mon­day pulled back from worst-case fore­casts.

Bos­ton-based catas­tro­phe mod­el­ing firm AIR World­wide pro­jected in­sured losses at $20 bil­lion to $40 bil­lion. That was down from an ear­lier es­ti­mate of up to $65 bil­lion in the United States and Caribbean and up to $50 bil­lion in the United States alone be­fore changes in Irma’s path and in­ten­sity.

Other es­ti­mates have come in as low as $10 bil­lion, mak­ing it per­haps still a top 10 U.S. storm but not ap­proach­ing 2005’s Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina.

“Mother Na­ture did us a few fa­vors,” Weather Chan­nel se­nior hur­ri­cane spe­cial­ist Bryan Nor­cross, who cov­ered Hur­ri­cane An­drew in South Florida 25 years ago, posted on so­cial me­dia. “Irma ran into the north­ern coast of Cuba — hor­ri­ble for the Cubans, there was sig­nif­i­cant dam­age and flood­ing there, but good for us be­cause it dis­rupted the storm to some ex­tent. Sec­ondly, the track far­ther south than we thought it might travel de­layed Irma’s ar­rival in the Florida Keys. That tim­ing dif­fer­ence was key to what hap­pened.”

Dol­lars alone hardly mea­sure the full im­pact of a storm, of course. The toll in hu­man life in­cludes at least six in Florida and 37 in the Caribbean. And there are still plenty of haz­ards as peo­ple se­cure or re­turn to their homes. But the im­pact in Florida could have been worse, analysts said.

Irma, which re­mained a Cat­e­gory 5 storm longer than any on record as it ap­proached Florida, kept mov­ing west and strafed Cuba be­fore strik­ing Cud­joe Key at Cat­e­gory 4 strength with max­i­mum winds of 130 mph, then made a sec­ond land­fall as a Cat­e­gory 3 storm at Marco Is­land near Naples in South­west Florida. Weak­en­ing over land, it be­came a Cat­e­gory 1 storm near Tampa overnight and a trop­i­cal storm by Mon­day morn­ing.

“Nearly the en­tire state of Florida has been sub­ject to strong winds and tor­ren­tial rains, and very dan­ger­ous storm surge,” AIR World­wide said in a state­ment. Irma pounded the Florida Keys with ex­treme winds and tor­ren­tial rains, and some ar­eas were soaked with up to 10 inches or more of rain.

As it weak­ened, Irma’s sus­tained for­ward mo­tion may have helped avoid the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of wa­ter and flood­ing seen two weeks ago in Texas from Hur­ri­cane Har­vey, AIR noted.

Nonethe­less, Irma and Har­vey seem poised to emerge as the costli­est com­bi­na­tion of storms in one sea­son. On Sun­day, Ac­cuWeather founder and Pres­i­dent Joel N. My­ers es­ti­mated the two storms will cost up to $290 bil­lion.

“We es­ti­mated that Hur­ri­cane Har­vey is to be the costli­est weather dis­as­ter in U.S. his­tory at $190 bil­lion or 1 full per­cent­age point of the GDP,” My­ers said. He put an early es­ti­mate of $100 bil­lion on Irma as the storm was still un­fold­ing.

The Ac­cuWeather fig­ures in­clude not only dam­age to homes but also eco­nomic costs such as dis­rup­tions to busi­ness, crop dam­age and higher fuel costs, he said.

“Some of the losses will be cov­ered by in­sur­ance, some will not, so the losses will be felt in a va­ri­ety of ways by mil­lions of peo­ple,” My­ers said. “Many mil­lions of peo­ple have al­ready been evac­u­ated, so their lives have al­ready been af­fected and they have in­curred costs of one sort or an­other.”

In con­trast, AIR said its loss es­ti­mates for the United States in­clude wind and storm surge dam­age to on­shore res­i­den­tial, com­mer­cial and in­dus­trial prop­er­ties and their con­tents, au­to­mo­biles and in­sured busi­ness-in­ter­rup­tion ex­penses and tem­po­rary liv­ing ex­penses for res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties.

Es­ti­mates of losses cov­ered by in­sur­ance com­pa­nies do not nec­es­sar­ily in­clude flood dam­age cov­ered by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s Na­tional Flood In­sur­ance Pro­gram, unin­sured eco­nomic and prop­erty losses, and gov­ern­ment aid pay­ments.

Gov. Rick Scott said the state had al­ready spent $75 mil­lion on Irma as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ap­proved a re­quest Sun­day to ex­pe­dite fed­eral aid. Congress has cleared with way for bil­lions of dol­lars in as­sis­tance for Har­vey and Irma, with an ini­tial $15 bil­lion ap­proved last week.

Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina in 2005 cost $41.1 bil­lion in losses cov­ered by in­sur­ance com­pa­nies, rank­ing it as the most ex­pen­sive U.S. dis­as­ter, ac­cord­ing to the In­sur­ance In­for­ma­tion In­sti­tute. Ad­justed for in­fla­tion, that was $49.8 bil­lion in 2016 dol­lars. Har­vey’s costs are still be­ing tal­lied.

By com­par­i­son, Hur­ri­cane An­drew in 1992 cost $15.5 bil­lion in in­sured losses at the time and $24.5 bil­lion ad­justed for in­fla­tion, ac­cord­ing to the In­sti­tute.

Hur­ri­cane Sandy in 2012 pro­duced $18.8 bil­lion in in­sured losses, or $19.9 bil­lion af­ter in­fla­tion.

Storms tend to be­come more ex­pen­sive over time, not nec­es­sar­ily be­cause they are stronger but be­cause more peo­ple live in their path with more ex­pen­sive homes, cars and per­sonal prop­erty.

In­sur­ers will now be­gin hear­ing from their cus­tomers. The Prop­erty Ca­su­alty In­sur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica ad­vised cau­tion, both in check­ing out prop­erty dam­age in con­di­tions that can still be haz­ardous and in choos­ing con­trac­tors to re­pair the dam­age.

“As the ef­fects of Hur­ri­cane Irma con­tinue to plague Florida, PCI en­cour­ages Florid­i­ans to safely and thor­oughly as­sess their home, busi­ness and auto dam­age,” said Lo­gan McFaddin, PCI Florida re­gional man­ager. “Once you’ve had a mo­ment to as­sess your prop­erty dam­age, im­me­di­ately reach out to your in­surer to file a claim.”

BEACH POST LANNIS WA­TERS / THE PALM

A Mo­bil gas sta­tion on US 41 in Naples shows dam­age from Hur­ri­cane Irma on Mon­day.

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