Economic Damage Wrought By Hurricane Florence Nearly 10 Times Worse Than Expected

Rivers in the Carolinas are still rising and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has warned that it still isn't safe for displaced residents to return to their property. But that hasn't stopped Moody's from releasing the first estimate of the economic damage wrought by Hurricane Florence.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the ratings agency's estimates put the total economic toll at somewhere between $38 billion and $50 billion - more than double an initial estimate of between $8 billion and $20 billion from Goldman Sachs and S&P. And nearly ten times CoreLogic's initial estimate of between $3 billion and $5 billion.

If damages reach the upper end of that range, it would leave Florence in seventh place among the biggest storms, just after 1992's Hurricane Andrew, according to Moody’s estimates.

Florence

Notably, the expected toll is lower than each of last year's three major hurricanes:

Based on Moody’s estimates, last year’s three hurricanes each caused more damage than Florence: Harvey’s tally reached $133.5 billion; Maria’s $120 billion; and Irma’s $84.2 billion.

Still, the storm has continued to wreak havoc in the region as the death toll has risen to 41. Rivers in the Carolinas have continued to rise, and rescues are still being carried out by first responders. Meanwhile, water levels for the Cape Fear River are expected to peak on Saturday:

Florence, which made landfall Sept. 14 and has claimed 41 lives in the Carolinas and Virginia, is continuing to wreak havoc. Rivers in the Carolinas are continuing to rise, and more than 600 roads were still closed Friday in North Carolina. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned it still isn’t safe for many people to return home including the 3,700 who remain in shelters.

Part of the Cape Fear River is forecast to crest Saturday while the Waccamaw River at Conway, S.C., isn’t expected to crest until Tuesday or Wednesday next week , according to the National Weather Service.

In a rescue Thursday night in the town of Kelly, N.C., more than 100 stranded people were plucked from harm by National Guard and Coast Guard helicopters, authorities said.

Private insurers (a group that excludes the federal government's National Flood Insurance Program) are anticipating up to $5 billion in covered losses:

Private insurers are preparing for an estimated $1.7 billion to $5 billion in total costs from Florence. The estimates from catastrophe-risk modeling firms include damage to homes, cars and commercial property, and also include policy benefits like living expenses for homeowners and business interruption for companies, but typically exclude flood claims for individual homes.

One insurance analyst told WSJ that costs for insurers will be relatively low because only parts of coastal North Carolina absorbed the damage from hurricane-force winds, while the rest of the Carolina were subjected to less powerful tropical storm force winds.

Risk modeler Karen Clark & Co. said the cost to the insurance industry was held down because hurricane-force winds were experienced only along the North Carolina cost, with less powerful, tropical-storm-force winds elsewhere in the two states.

"This led to widespread low level damage," the firm said.

In fact, costs should be less than $5 billion, down from potential loss estimates of $20 billion, largely due to the drop in wind speeds that brought Florence from a Category 4 storm while out at sea to a Category 1 storm upon impact

The current estimates for the insurance industry’s bill are dramatically lower than some of the figures discussed about when Florence was spinning offshore at Category 4 wind strength.

"Since the storm weakened from a Category 4 to a Category 1 at landfall, losses for the insurance industry were cut significantly—to under $5 billion from a potential loss of $20 billion," Wells Fargo analyst Elyse Greenspan said.

Here's a roundup of claims received by the largest insurers in the state, courtesy of WSJ:

"Coastal Property Insurance Pool, which is a state-created last resort option for insurance, has more than 32,700 claims in hand, Ms. Schwitzgebel said. The claims are largely for roof repairs, replacements of broken windows and some structural damage to homes from fallen trees."

"USAA, one of the biggest insurers in the Carolinas, is up to 38,000 Florence claims. It had roughly 49,000 claims from Harvey." This is largely due to the large number of military members living in the area both on and around the state's Army and Marines bases.

"State Farm, the biggest home insurer by market share in North Carolina, said it had received about 12,400 homeowner claims and 1,900 automobile claims in North Carolina related to Hurricane Florence as of Sept. 20. Policyholders in South Carolina, where it also is a top insurer, had filed 1,610 home and 500 auto claims."

Unfortunately for FEMA's NFIP, which is already struggling with a $20 billion debt, most of the losses will be absorbed by the federal program, which provides subsidized policies to individuals with homes in designated flood plains. This could create more problems going forward, as the program is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and may soon require a government bailout.