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Harvey moves into Louisiana, rainfall continues

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After dumping record rainfall on the Houston area, Tropical Storm Harvey continued toward Louisiana and the Tennessee Valley on Wednesday, spreading rain over a growing geographical area.

But flooding in Houston remains a grave concern as the storm moves eastward, according to government reports.

“The threat of heavy rains has ended in the Houston/Galveston area,” the National Hurricane Center said in its most recent advisory Wednesday morning. “However catastrophic and life-threatening flooding will continue in and around Houston, Beaumont/Port Arthur, (and) eastward into southwest Louisiana for the rest of the week.” 

Rainfall is expected to last through the end of the week, according to the center.

“Harvey is expected to produce additional rainfall accumulations of 3 to 6 inches from southwestern Louisiana and the adjacent border of eastern Texas northeastward into western Tennessee and Kentucky through Friday with isolated amounts up to 10 inches,” the center said.

Harvey set a new record for contiguous-U.S. rainfall from a tropical storm, according to preliminary data from the National Weather Service, dumping 51.88 inches at Cedar Bayou, Texas, about 30 miles from Houston, the service reported Wednesday.

As the storm moves slowly, the insurance claims process is already beginning.

The storm is expected to generate a “significant volume” of complex property claims, according to Gary Marchitello, head of property broking at Willis Towers Watson P.L.C., and “claims are starting to come in at Marsh” a spokeswoman for that brokerage said via email.

Claims guidance is being made available by organizations including the Insurance Information Institute.

Many analysts and observers, however, point out that it has yet to stop raining and that waters must recede before much of the claims process can begin.

“From an insured-loss perspective, it is too premature to forecast this event,” Mr. Marchitello said.

“It is difficult to contemplate what the final tally might be, as the forecast is for continued rain through this week,” S&P Global Ratings Inc. said in a report late Monday.

Preliminary estimates for insured losses range up to $6 billion excluding flood damages, which remain to be seen.

Economic losses have been modeled between $70 billion and $90 billion by catastrophe modeler Risk Management Solutions Inc., which emphasized that this did not represent its “official insurance loss estimate.”

The majority of the overall loss is likely to be from inland flooding in the Houston metropolitan area, where there are over 7 million properties representing over $1.5 trillion in value, RMS said in a statement Wednesday.

“The component of the overall economic loss caused by wind and sea storm surge continues to be very modest in our assessment, because the storm did not affect the most highly developed coastal areas. Initial recreations of the hurricane suggest less than 10% of the economic loss will be driven by wind and storm surge damage to property and off-shore platforms,” RMS said in its statement.

The National Hurricane Center said that expected heavy rains spreading northeastward from Louisiana into western Kentucky may also lead to flash flooding and warned against travel, adding that Harvey’s outer bands are expected to produce additional rainfall amounts of 3 to 6 inches over portions of the central and eastern Gulf states and 2 to 4 inches farther north into parts of the Tennessee Valley, Ohio Valley and southern Mid-Atlantic through Saturday.

Harvey is expected to turn toward the northeast Thursday night and Friday after its center moves through southwestern and central Louisiana Wednesday and Wednesday night, and through northeastern Louisiana and northwestern Mississippi Thursday and Thursday night, the center said.

Weakening is forecast during the next 48 hours as Harvey moves farther inland, and the cyclone is expected to weaken to a tropical depression tonight, according to the center.