Damages from Sandy Could Be in Excess of $50 Billion

Andrew Klips |

Millions of people are still in the dark across a wide swath of land through New York, Connecticut and New Jersey with property in ruins after superstorm Sandy flooded the states on Monday night. Further west, the storm blanketed West Virginia with snow and left more than 20 percent of the state without electricity.

Researchers have been sliding beads on their abacuses trying to gauge the level of damage which started around $10 billion on Tuesday with estimates now falling between $50 billion to $100 billion.

In what now seems to have been an almost clairvoyant report in 2011, titled “Risk Increase to Infrastructure Due to Sea Level Rise” by Klaus H. Jacob, Noah Edelblum and Jonathan Arnold at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, the researchers predicted damages between $50 billion and $100 billion should a storm hit the Metropolitan East Coast (MEC) with water surges between 13 and 14 feet. The projections were based upon extrapolating data from previous storms that pegged the East Coast.

According to the National Hurricane Center, Texas-sized Sandy caused the sea level to rise more than 13 feet around New York.

Reiterated the predictions, researches at HIS Global Insight place the damages at $20 billion for property and up to $30 billion in lost business. In perspective, 2011’s Hurricane Irene cost $15.8 billion in property losses and Hurricane Katrina caused a whopping $108 billion in property damage in 2005.

From a broad gross domestic product view, the storm is actually not expected to have much of an impact because the losses from the storm will be offset by construction and rebuilding efforts. Meanwhile, though, short-term growth could be affected by as much as 0.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012. The MEC area produces about 10 percent of the U.S.’s economic output.

An uneven clean-up and “re-boot” of some operations is ongoing through Thursday morning and will be for months. After nearly 20,000 flights were cancelled earlier in the week, some major airports – namely JFK International and Newark Liberty International – began service on Wednesday and LaGuardia is slated to re-open today.
Rail transit systems and subway operations are starting again on Thursday, albeit at a limited capacity with no subways going to lower Manhattan, including the financial district, as water is still being pumped-out of those tunnels. The MTA, who tweeted that 14 of the system's 23 lines would be restored Thursday, has waived any fees for subway, bus and rail passengers through Friday. NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has mandated HOV (High-Occupancy Vehicle; at least 3 people per car) travel for vehicles entering Manhattan via major bridges and tunnels.

Traffic Thursday morning is in gridlock with people trying to get into the city.

All NYC schools are closed to students Thursday and Friday, but teachers and administrators have been told to show-up for work on Friday.

The support teams are coming in droves now to try and help the waterlogged East Coast. The U.S. Navy has sent amphibious ships and more than 10,000 Army and Air National Guard personnel are on their way to support the 13 hardest-hit states in recovery and relief efforts in addition to goodwill outfits such as the American Red Cross already assisting.

A sad fact is that most homeowners and businesses in the area aren’t eligible for flood insurance, so the damages could be crippling. Lending giant Freddie Mac has stepped to the plate and offered some assistance to borrowers in disaster areas. Part of its offerings includes reduced monthly payments or temporarily deferring monthly note payments while homeowners grappled with their limited number of options.

Forecasting company Eqecat believes that insured losses related to Hurricane Sandy will tally between $5 billion to $10 billion. There are some technicalities involved as the storm was downgraded from actually being a “hurricane” to a “post tropical cyclone” went it came inland, which could provide some relief for those having hurricane deductibles. Deductibles for hurricane damage can be as high as 5 percent of a home’s valuation.

Homeowners without insurance, or whose policy does not cover all the losses, may be eligible for benefits up to $31,400 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). NY Senator Charles Schumer said there’s $7.2 billion in FEMA’s disaster relief fund, but it “may not be enough.”

Small businesses without flood insurance will be the hardest hit as many could be forced to shutter operations permanently simply because of the loss of sales and lack of funds to restock and rebuild from the worst Atlantic storm in history.

Some large public companies are making headway in re-opening stores. Sears Holdings Corp. (SHLD), which operates Kmart and Sears stores, has most of their stores now selling product again, after 187 were closed on Monday. Olive Garden and Red Lobster owner Darden Restaurants Inc. (DRI) has re-opened that vast majority of the 260 stores it had closed because of the storm.

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