Economic damage from Hurricane Laura is far less than initially feared

Author: Chris Isidore / CNN Business
Published: Updated:
Ahmed Nawaz looks through the damage to his store after Hurricane Laura passed through Lake Charles, Louisiana, U.S. August 27, 2020. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

Hurricane Laura is one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the US Gulf Coast, but its path avoided major cities such as Houston and New Orleans, causing less damage — to people and their towns — than initially feared.

An early estimate from CoreLogic is that insured losses from the storm, which has killed six people, will be between $8 billion and $12 billion. Almost all those costs will come in Louisiana, with insured losses in Texas coming to less than $500 million, according to the estimate.

Another estimate from Moody’s Analytics is that the total economic cost, including damaged structures and businesses temporarily closed during the storm, will be in the neighborhood of $20 billion.

Laura’s ferocious winds tore off roofs and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands. But the damage is far less severe than some recent storms that hit more populated areas.

Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 storm that is the most costly in US history, caused $57 billion in insured losses, including flood insurance claims, according to the Insurance Information Institute, and $140 billion in total economic damage, according to Moody’s.

Hurricane Harvey, which hit Houston with massive floods in 2017, caused between $27 billion and $29 billion in insured damages, according to the institute, and $134 billion in total economic damage, according to Moody’s. And Hurricane Maria caused between $25 billion and $30 billion in insured damage and $120 billion in economic damage, also in 2017, said the III and Moody’s.

“Laura’s going to be devasting to the places it hit, such as the city of Lake Charles [Louisiana],” said Tom Sabbatelli-Goodyer, senior manager of modeling at RMS, which does estimates for the insurance industry on the costs of natural disasters. “But it threaded the needle between New Orleans and Houston, so the worst-case scenario in terms of economic loss has not been realized.”

The area along the state line where Laura hit and moved north is very rural compared with the more populated areas around Houston and New Orleans hit by other major storms in recent years.

It could take longer for some of the businesses and homeowners sustaining damage to recover from the economic damage because of the current economic conditions, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics.

While insurance payouts might cover most of the losses for many, homeowners who are out of work or businesses with reduced revenue may not be able to cover the cost of insurance deductibles and start repairs. And there are many who will discover that some losses are not covered by insurance at all.

A traditional homeowner’s policy will not cover the cost of flood damage. That is covered by the National Flood Insurance Program, which is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

But in the four counties in Texas most directly hit by the storm, only about a third of homes have flood insurance. And in the Louisiana 10 parishes most directly affected by the storm, only about 20% of homes are covered.

Some homes might not be covered because they are on higher ground and therefore at less risk. But many homes will be hit with water from rain or storm surges, which are not covered, said Tom Larsen, principal of insurance solutions at CoreLogic.

“What we’ve seen in the past in Harvey and other severe storms, only about 30% to 40% of homes that have flood damage have flood insurance,” he said.

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