Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Damage Reports and Continued Flooding Shows Hurricane Irene Was Anything But Hype

As I have previously noted, Hurricane Irene and its damage path was anything but hyped by media outlets. The New York Times reports that the storm will rank among the 10 costliest disasters in US history. That's even as insurers breathed a sigh of relief that they wouldn't be on the hook for as much of the cost as they expected because there was more flooding than wind damage. Flood damage is typically picked up by the National Flood Insurance Program and isn't covered under typical homeowners 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.”
Even as I write this, major flooding continues through New Jersey and upstate New York and Vermont communities are still cut off due to massive flash flood damage that washed out roads and communications.

The Passaic River flooding continues even though the river has crested at record or near record levels. They don't expect flooding to recede until the end of the week at the least. It's the same story on the Raritan River and other rivers through New Jersey. (Photos of damage, including Mountain View Road in Wayne, New Jersey, and Totawa, New Jersey).

While NJ Transit is getting service restored including on the Northeast Corridor, the Port Jervis line into NY is suspended indefinitely due to storm damage and it's affecting NJ Transit service and customer service is nonresponsive to the situation (and hasn't issued warnings to commuters to seek other routes due to lack of equipment or overcrowded trains).

Ongoing flooding is complicating efforts to restore power through the region. Crews can't get in to make repairs until the flooding recedes and/or crews can clear roads of debris so that power companies can repair the damage. That means that the power will remain out in and around the affected areas. Some people have been told not to expect a restoration of power until the weekend, and others have an even longer timeframe due to need to wait on receding floodwaters.

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