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.”
Officials in states up and down the Eastern Seaboard said that it was far too early to tally up the damage, and that they were still focused on clearing debris, restoring power, trying to reopen flooded roads and bridges, and, in some areas, helping stranded people.
In southern Vermont, the National Guard airlifted food, water and other supplies on Tuesday to hundreds of people who were stranded in 13 towns that have been cut off by floodwater since Sunday. Mark Bosma, a spokesman for the Vermont Office of Emergency Management, said most of the isolated towns had no electricity and none had potable water because floodwaters had overwhelmed local sewage and water treatment plants.
“I think it’s probably a very scary thing to not know when you can get out of town and to have a water system that’s not working and a general store that has run out of bottled water,” Mr. Bosma said. “People are extremely nervous about being isolated.”
More than 260 roads and 30 state bridges remained at least partly closed Tuesday because of the flooding, which in some areas remains a threat as larger rivers, like the Connecticut, are expected to continue rising until at least Wednesday as they gather runoff and flow from tributaries, officials said.
In Mendon, a part of Route 4, the main east-west road through central Vermont, was swept away, as were 35 bridges, including at least four historic covered bridges, officials said. Four railroad bridges in the state are also unpassable, and Amtrak has announced that it has suspended train service indefinitely on its Vermont routes.
“Some of the roads have literally washed away,” said Sue Minter, the state’s deputy transportation secretary.
Worried that the reports of the devastation could put off visitors as Vermont enters one of its prime tourist seasons — autumn always attracts legions of leaf peepers who come to gawk at foliage — the Vermont Chamber of Commerce opened a Facebook page, VisitVT, in which local inns and other businesses could leave posts explaining whether they are open and whether they were damaged.
“While some are devastated, some are not,” said Betsy Bishop, the chamber’s president.
In Delaware, where the popular beaches like Rehoboth Beach were evacuated last weekend, shutting restaurants and emptying hotels, Gov. Jack Markell is urging people to come back for the Labor Day weekend — and to bring friends.
“What I’m saying is if you had planned to be at the beach last weekend, come back this weekend for Labor Day and bring somebody else,” he said in an interview. “We’ll try to even it out.”
Mr. Markell unveiled a rapid response team on Tuesday to help small businesses cope with the fallout from the storm.
Exactly how much economic activity was lost to the storm is difficult to say. Airports were closed, Broadway theaters stayed dark, ballgames were called, commuters could not get to the office, businesses lost power, and big plants were flooded. And how much economic activity will be generated by the cleanup and rebuilding efforts is hard to pinpoint. But economists are beginning to make educated guesses.
Frederick R. Treyz, the chief economist of Regional Economic Models Inc., did an analysis of the possible impact of the storm.
Assuming that direct damages totaled $7 billion, Dr. Treyz projected that the recovery would generate roughly 42,000 jobs — including construction workers, debris removers and the jobs that would be generated by the money they earned and spent elsewhere. But he calculated that one day’s business disruption across the affected region — a rough estimate that allows for some businesses that were not disrupted at all, and others that were disrupted for several days — would lead to losses that could cost roughly 62,000 jobs.
It takes longer to read this sentence than it does to support our work.
We have 1 day left to raise the $28,000 needed to meet Truthout‘s basic publishing costs this month. Will you take a few seconds to donate and give us a much-needed boost?
We know you are deeply committed to the issues that matter, and you count on us to bring you trustworthy reporting and comprehensive analysis on the real issues facing our country and the world. And as a nonprofit newsroom supported by reader donations, we’re counting on you too. If you believe in the importance of an independent, free media, please make a tax-deductible donation today!