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Tallying the toll of Hurricane Ian

BACKGROUNDER | The deadly storm may be the costliest in Florida’s history, and private insurers could take a big hit


Gerald Herbert/AP

Tallying the toll of Hurricane Ian
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Hurricane Ian slammed into southwest Florida on Sept. 28 with wind speeds of 150 mph—one of the strongest storms ever to hit the United States. In the week following landfall, officials reported at least 105 deaths in Florida, and four more in North Carolina. Here’s how Ian stacks up against other storms, and what the recovery process will look like:

How does Ian’s death toll compare with other U.S. hurricanes? Katrina, in 2005, killed 1,200 people, making it the third-deadliest storm in U.S. history. But most storms these days aren’t nearly as lethal. Only four of the 30 deadliest happened in the last 50 years. Sandy killed 72 in 2012, and Harvey killed 68 in 2017. That same year, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. The government revised the official death toll to nearly 3,000, but that included those who died up to six months later due to post-storm conditions on the island.

What about property damage? Early estimates said Ian’s damage could top $47 billion. That would make it the costliest storm in Florida history. Katrina remains the costliest storm in U.S. history at $186.3 billion (adjusted for inflation).

How will aid groups, including churches, help during the recovery effort? Christian disaster response groups, including Samaritan’s Purse, Send Relief, and Texas Baptist Men, began providing hot meals and other immediate help within days. Aid groups also planned to deploy short-term shower, laundry, and shelter operations. The next wave of assistance will involve cleaning out flooded homes and businesses. The final round of help will target rebuilding efforts, especially for people who did not have insurance.

Who’s going to pay for the repairs? That depends on what caused the most damage, wind or water. Much of Ian’s devastation came from storm surge or inland flooding, which means the government-run National Flood Insurance Program will bear the brunt of the cost. Most private insurers don’t cover flooding but do cover wind damage. Industry analysts say wind claims could deal a severe blow to Florida’s private insurance market, which already has the highest premiums in the nation.

What about people who don’t have insurance? Only about 30 ­percent of homes in the hard-hit Charlotte and Lee counties have federal or private flood insurance, meaning many homeowners will have to rely on federal grants and loans, or private donations, to help them rebuild. And that money’s limited. The Federal Emergency Management Agency only offers about $40,000 for rebuilding grants.

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