Overhyped? Irene Could Rank As One Of The Ten Most Expensive Hurricanes Ever
As flood waters have overwhelmed New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont and, to a lesser extent, Upstate New York, the debate over whether the media “overhyped” Hurricane Irene this past weekend has faded fast. Now, there’s news that Irene could end up being one of the most expensive hurricanes to strike the United States since records were kept:
Hurricane Irene will most likely prove to be one of the 10 costliest catastrophes in the nation’s history, and analysts said that much of the damage might not be covered by insurance because it was caused not by winds but by flooding, which is excluded from many standard policies.
Industry estimates put the cost of the storm at $7 billion to $10 billion, largely because the hurricane pummeled an unusually wide area of the East Coast. Beyond deadly flooding that caused havoc in upstate New York and Vermont, the hurricane flooded cotton and tobacco crops in North Carolina, temporarily halted shellfish harvesting in Chesapeake Bay, sapped power and kept commuters from their jobs in the New York metropolitan area and pushed tourists off Atlantic beaches in the peak of summer.
While insurers have typically covered about half of the total losses in past storms, they might end up covering less than 40 percent of the costs associated with Hurricane Irene, according to an analysis by the Kinetic Analysis Corporation. That is partly because so much damage was caused by flooding, and it is unclear how many damaged homes have flood insurance, and partly because deductibles have risen steeply in coastal areas in recent years, requiring some homeowners to cover $4,000 worth of damages or more before insurers pick up the loss.
This could make it harder for many stricken homeowners to rebuild, and could dampen any short-term boost to the construction industry that typically accompanies major storms, Jan Vermeiren, the chief executive of Kinetic Analysis, said in an interview.
“Especially now that the economy is tight, and people don’t have money sitting around, local governments are broke, and maybe people can’t even get loans from the banks,” Mr. Vermeiren said.
The governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut sought expedited disaster declarations from the federal government on Tuesday, which would pave the way for more federal aid. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York wrote President Obama that he had seen “hundreds of private homes either destroyed or with major damage and an enormous amount of public infrastructure damage.” Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey wrote the president that “immediate federal assistance is needed now to give New Jersey’s residents a helping hand at an emotionally and financially devastating time.”
Flooding and widespread power failures tied to the storm continued to affect tens of thousands of people in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut on Tuesday. And rivers and inland streams were still rising in New Jersey and Connecticut, forcing the evacuation of thousands of homeowners.
“I think this is going to end up being a bigger event than people think it is,” Connecticut’s governor, Dannel P. Malloy, said at a news conference. He added: “All of this is massive in scope. What the final dollar amount is, I don’t know.”
So, the final answer to the question I asked on Monday is a clear, definitive no.
Photo of downtown Bound Brook, New Jersey via NJ.com