Harvey damage: What’s happened so far and what to expect

Click to play video: 'Rockport, Texas devastated after Hurricane Harvey makes landfall'
Rockport, Texas devastated after Hurricane Harvey makes landfall
WATCH: Rockport, Texas may have been the hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey with severe damage and flooding throughout the city – Aug 26, 2017

As tropical storm Harvey continues ravaging 18 counties across Texas, the cost of recovery and damage continues to rise.

Several reports are claiming that the total cost of the storm, including damage, government assistance, insurance claims and long-term impacts on other areas of the economy, could reach tens of billions of dollars.

On top of this, a report from Bloomberg states less than a third of these losses are likely to be covered by insurance. Typical insurance policies cover wind but not flooding, Bloomberg reported on Monday.

“If your daily expectation is not to get flooded, you probably would have either no or minimal flood insurance,” explains John C. Mutter, author of The Disaster Profiteers: How Natural Disasters Make The Rich Richer And The Poor Even Poorer. Mutter is also a professor in the department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University.

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Mutter explains unprecedented rainfall in Texas is causing most of the damage.

“The thing that seems to be unprecedented is the rainfall. In terms of wind speed, things like storm surge and the category of the storm, there’s nothing unusual about that, but it has brought enormous amounts of rain and that’s what’s unprecedented,” Mutter said.

Parts of the state have received more than 100 centimetres of rain with more predicted over the next few days.

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Mutter warns that while the storm and intense flooding continue in Texas, it’s unclear just how costly this storm will prove to be.

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“If anything’s normal it’s that people make estimates right around now that are usually woefully wrong, proved in the future. What you often hear, which is relatively accurate is an estimate from the insurance industry because they tend to know what sort of assets they have insured and what sort of losses they might encounter. That typically will not include public infrastructure, roads and bridges and the like.” Mutter explained.

Since the storm approached last Friday, several different estimates have been released. Insurers predicted that it could cause billions of dollars in insured losses, though that estimate has been reduced to an estimated $10 billion in flood insurance losses and over $2 billion in wind-related losses, meteorologist at the BMS Group Andrew Siffert told CNBC.

A separate report from Reuters stated that losses from wind and storm surge (the ocean rising and flooding the city), would likely amount to between $1.2 billion and $2.3 billion.

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Reuters adds that the cleanup and recovery costs of the hurricane-turned-tropical-storm Harvey will likely not reach the levels or hurricanes Katrina or Sandy, the total insurance losses of which came out to $80 billion and $36 billion respectively.

At its peak, Harvey reached Category 4, which, according to the Saffir-Simpson scale, should cause “wall failures and roof collapses on small homes, and extensive damage to doors and windows. Complete destruction of some homes, especially mobile homes. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Major coastal flooding damage. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”

Two 2004 storms were Category 4: Hurricane Ivan, which made landfall near Gulf Shores, Ala., and Hurricane Charley, which hit the Florida Gulf Coast near Fort Myers. Charley killed at least 21 people and left thousands homeless. The total U.S. damage was estimated to be near $15 billion. Hurricane Ike in 2008 was a Category 2 storm that resulted in $13 billion in losses.

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After hitting Texas on Friday, Harvey was quickly upgraded from a Category 1 storm to a Category 4, and has since been downgraded to a tropical storm. Certain regions have been hit particularly hard, for instance, Houston, where citizens weren’t evacuated as they were in other regions.

So far, the worst damage appears to be in the coastal city of Rockport with a population of 10,000 that sat directly in Harvey’s path. In addition to homes, businesses, and schools being heavily damaged or destroyed, power poles have been toppled and wood frames from ripped-part houses are scattered along Route 35.

In the aftermath of this destruction, Mutter predicts that the poorer areas hit by the storm will experience the hardest time getting back on their feet, which was also the case with Hurricane Katrina.

“What you should look for is much the same thing as what happened in Katrina. There are parts of Houston that are quite poor, and probably the housing there is more fragile than in other parts where people are wealthier and better insured. It may mirror New Orleans in that parts of town will come back quickly and other parts will come back very slow. Individuals and structures that are insured come back very quickly,” Mutter said.


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