Hurricane Irma Could Cost 'Billions Upon Billions'

Sep 11, 2017

Local curfews were in place throughout the state, much of the Florida Keys remained closed and millions of people continued to lack electricity as cleanup work expected to reach into the billions of dollars began Monday in the wake of deadly Hurricane Irma.

While businesses slowly reopen, the state is dealing with widespread flooding, from storm surges of 4 to 8 feet along both coasts to flash flooding in Northeast Florida.

Gov. Rick Scott, who flew over hard-hit areas Monday, said damage along the Southwest coast, where Irma made a second landfall Sunday, included roofs off homes, boats tossed, flooding and sand across roads. But overall, he said the conditions appeared “not as bad as we thought the storm surge would do.”

However, he depicted the destruction in the Keys, which experienced the first landfall, as “horrible.”

“There is devastation, and I just hope everybody survived,” Scott said during an afternoon press conference at the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Miami in Opa-locka.

Scott viewed the damage while flying on a U.S. Coast Guard C-130 plane Monday morning.

“I know for our entire state, but especially the Keys, it's going to be a long road. There is a lot of damage,” Scott said. “I know everyone wants to get back to normal. I know everyone wants to get started, but you've got to be patient. We've got to get the first responders to the Keys. We've got to get water going again. We've got to get electricity going again. We've got to get sewers going again. It's going to take a lot of time.”

At least four deaths have been tied to the storm, including a Hardee County sheriff's deputy and a Florida Department of Corrections officer, who were involved in a car crash.

Scott declined to speculate on the potential for additional loss of life from the storm. He traveled across the state during the past week warning Floridians to evacuate from vulnerable areas, as Irma cut a deadly path through the Caribbean as a massive Category 5 storm with maximum sustained winds reaching 185 mph.

“I don't want anybody to die, so I hoped everybody listened to what we were talking about. We'll find out over time if people did or not,” Scott said. “You know the days run together, but I remember the morning when the hurricane was hitting, the roads were empty. So I think people did leave their homes and got off the roads.”

Scott also declined to speculate on the potential costs of the storm, saying the numbers will first be compiled by individual counties.

In requesting federal disaster relief Sunday, Scott said the state had already spent $75 million on Irma. President Donald Trump later approved the request.

Congressman Carlos Curbelo, a Republican whose district includes all of Monroe County and parts of southwest Miami-Dade, said it will cost “billions upon billions upon billions of dollars” to restore the Keys and South Florida.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Miami-Dade County, vowed to push federal lawmakers to provide funding for the relief efforts.

“We found it for Hurricane Harvey, we're going to band together and find it for the residents who are survivors of Hurricane Irma,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

An initial estimate from Moody's Analytics on Monday projected property destruction from Irma between $64 billion and $92 billion.

The storm, combined with Hurricane Harvey's impact on Texas, could cause a further $20 billion to $30 billion hit to the nation's economic output, lowering the third quarter gross domestic product estimate to 2.5 percent from 3 percent, according to Moody's Analytics.

For Florida, the impacts will depend on demands placed on insurance companies and the levels of needed government funding, as well as how quickly Florida's tourism industry can rebound. Also, Moody's added that the fourth-quarter numbers could be boosted because of reconstruction from both storms.

State Senate Banking and Insurance Chairwoman Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican whose district also covers the Keys, said the state has to make sure state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. has the funds to cover individual property-insurance claims, particularly from the Keys.

“We feel that because this storm was not as bad as it could have been, that Citizens will not have to go into actual assessment mode, and to assess people who are not Citizens property holders,” Flores said. “Citizens' reserves are approximately $9 billion. So the question that we have to figure out in the next couple of days is of that, how many Citizens property holders were at a total loss.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, has raised the possibility of a post-storm special session “should any recovery efforts require legislative authorization.”

As of Monday afternoon, 6.7 million homes and businesses were without power across Florida, according to the State Emergency Response Team.

Florida Power & Light, the largest utility in the state, reported 3.5 million of its 5 million customer accounts were out.

St. Petersburg-based Duke Energy, with about 1.8 customer accounts, was working to restore power to nearly 1.3 million customers.

Tampa Electric reported more than 300,000 accounts had been knocked offline.

More than 820,000 were without power in Miami-Dade County, 600,000 in Broward and 530,000 in Palm Beach County.

Nearly 430,000 homes and businesses were out in Pinellas County. More than 300,000 were out in both Orange and Lee counties. Collier, Duval, Brevard, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Volusia each had more than 200,000 homes and businesses in the dark.

FPL President and Chief Executive Officer Eric Silagy estimated Monday that up to 9 million people served by his company, 90 percent of its customers, have been impacted.

While up to 1 million accounts have been restored, some customers in harder hit areas may have to wait weeks for full restoration, Silagy said.

“We've actually had over 5 million outages across our territory,” Silagy said during a morning press conference. “That, frankly, is unprecedented. We've never had that many outages. I don't think any utility in the country ever has. It is by far the largest in the history of our company.”

Meanwhile, all 7,935 members of the Florida Army and Air National Guard have been deployed, conducting search and rescue, law-enforcement support and humanitarian assistance.

The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and two amphibious ships, the USS Iwo Jima and USS New York, have been deployed to assist the state in search and rescue operations.

More than 200,000 people remained Monday afternoon in 585 shelters opened throughout the state.

The Florida Highway Patrol has started escorting utility convoys into areas without power, and Scott said the state law enforcement officers will do the same when the Port Tampa and Port Canaveral reopen and fuel trucks begin to travel.