GEORGES' PRE-FLORIDA TOLL TO TOP $1 BILLIONPosted On: Sep. 27, 1998 12:00 AM CST
Businesses throughout the Caribbean continue to pick up the pieces left shattered by Hurricane Georges, which ripped through the Leeward Islands last week on its way to Florida, sparing few in its wake.
By Friday morning, Hurricane Georges was lashing the Florida Keys with wind gusts of more than 100 mph and was expected to batter the state's Gulf coast later that day. Five million people in eight Florida counties were under hurricane warnings, and a million more living along 300 miles of coastline had been ordered out of the area.
Flooding, power outages and wind damage were expected throughout the Keys, but reports of damages were unavailable for this issue of Business Insurance.
On its way to the United States, Hurricane Georges killed more than 300 people in the Caribbean, pounding businesses and homes on the tiny islands of the eastern Caribbean with hurricane-force winds of more than 100 mph before pummelling the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and then Cuba on Thursday morning.
The Property Claims Services unit of the Insurance Services Office Inc. will not have an estimate of the total insured losses caused by Hurricane Georges until sometime this week.
However, Menlo Park, Calif.-based Risk Management Solutions Inc. last week projected that insured losses from the hurricane would likely exceed $1 billion from Puerto Rico, the U.S.V.I., the Leeward Islands, and the Dominican Republic. As of Friday, it could not yet estimate damage in the Florida Keys.
Brokers that have seen the damage in Puerto Rico say Hurricane Georges was much more destructive than Hurricane Hugo, which devastated the U.S.V.I. and the northeastern portion of Puerto Rico in September 1989, causing $1.2 billion in insured damages to those areas.
Hugo headed north from the Caribbean to produce an additional $3 billion in insured losses to North and South Carolina, making it the second-most costly hurricane on record, behind Hurricane Andrew, which caused about $18 billion in insured losses in August 1992.
"Right now, it's too early to tell insured damages," said Juan Antonio Garcia, Puerto Rico's commissioner of insurance in Santurce. The insurance industry paid $685 million in insurance losses in Puerto Rico for Hurricane Hugo, and "Hugo just touched us. This hurricane was stronger and it crossed diagonally over the island," Mr. Garcia said. "We estimate damages will be much more. My best guesstimate is about $1 billion."
"The hurricane has been devastating," said Jose Carrion III, senior vp-client services for broker Aon Barros & Carrion Inc. in San Juan. Damages "are much more than Hurricane Hugo."
As of last Friday, the broker had received five claims from its major clients. A fast-food client filed a $1 million claim; a hotel client filed a $4 million claim; and a race track client is asking for "several million," Mr. Carrion said.
He noted that most of the damage to its manufacturing clients is structural, while most of the damage to its professional service clients stems from business interruption.
Much of Puerto Rico has been without electricity and water since last Monday, Mr. Carrion said. As a result, "contingent business interruption losses will be substantial."
"We'll probably be cleaning up from this for a year," said Patrice Gonya, state officer for Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.'s Puerto Rico operation, noting that the storm
savagely seized the island for almost 24 hours. "It was a forever kind of storm. . . .This is the worst one I've ever seen."
Ms. Gonya said Mayaguez, a town on the western coast, sustained more water damage than the capital city.
At 10 a.m. Friday morning, about 800 claims had been filed in Puerto Rico, mostly due to wind damage. Because approximately 95% of the island still is without power, she guessed the number of claims is likely to rise to about 10,000.
Bernhard Schroeder, national property claims consulting leader for J&H Marsh & McLennan in Parsippany, N.J., is beginning to assess insurance claims from clients in the affected areas.
"Claims are starting to come in pretty strong now," he said. "We have around 60 to 80 clients in Puerto Rico that have identified some form of loss or damage." He said there are some manufacturing clients in the area whose roofs are gone and are completely exposed.
The broker also has a couple of clients in the Dominican Republic that have identified significant damage as well.
"I'm aware of one client's home office that is either severely damaged or condemned," Mr. Schroeder said.
Several utility clients in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico also have significant damage, he added.
While Mr. Schroeder said clients still were assessing damages last week, he has seen claims filed from Puerto Rico anywhere from $2 million to $20 million each. Total insured losses from its Dominican Republic clients could range between $20 million and $30 million, he estimates.
"As far as from our clients' physical and business interruption standpoint, it appears pretty significant," he said.
"This loss makes Hurricane Hugo look pale, and I saw the effects of Hugo and thought that was bad," Mr. Schroeder added.
Jack McCutchen, managing executive of Sedgwick of Florida Inc. in Fort Lauderdale, said damage to Sedgwick's three clients in Puerto Rico was not extensive.
"Our biggest concern from a physical standpoint is not as bad as from a business interruption standpoint," added Joe Latona, senior vp-risk control at Sedgwick of Florida Inc.
Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernadez gave a televised address to the nation last week, noting that more than half of the power grid in the country was destroyed at a cost of $111 million, according to press accounts. He also said that 70% of the country's bridges were damaged or destroyed and that 90% of the country's banana and other crops were flattened.
Reports from Haiti, Cuba, Antigua and Guadeloupe say that the islands sustained severe flood damage and thousands of homes were damaged.
The small islands of St. Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean sustained an estimated $445 million in damages, according to press accounts. It has been reported that 85% of the homes on both islands were hit, as well as local hospitals, police stations and schools. The local airport terminal and control tower are severely damaged.
The U.S. Virgin Islands also sustained severe damage to homes, hotels, shops, piers and boats, according to press accounts.
The hotel industry was one of the hardest hit by the hurricane. Structural damage due to the high winds from the storm has closed several hotels in the Caribbean, while others were spared and are open for business. In Puerto Rico, several hotels sustained no structural damage but are closed until electricity is restored to the island.
According to Utell International, a hotel marketing and reservations company in Omaha, Neb., Club Antigua on the tiny Caribbean island of Antigua is closed until Nov. 20 for cleanup and repair to its restaurant. Hawksbill Beach Resort, also in Antigua, is closed for about two months for repairs.
Two hotels on the tiny island of St. Martin -- Maho Beach Hotel & Casino and Great Bay Beach Hotel -- were closed last week for cleanup.
Ten hotels in Puerto Rico for which Utell books reservations are closed until electricity is restored, according to the company.
Westin Hotel Co.'s two hotels in the U.S.V.I., Westin Resorts St. John and Westin Carambola Beach Resort in St. Croix, sustained "minor structural" damage, according to a hotel spokeswoman. The Westin Carambola was expected to be up and running early this week, and the Westin St. John by Oct. 7.
A Westin hotel in Puerto Rico, Westin Rio Mar, also sustained water and wind damage due to the hurricane, but "nothing major," she said. The hotel is expected to reopen in 10 to 14 days. The spokeswoman had no information regarding damage and business interruption estimates.
Best Western International also had no damage estimates as of late last week. However, a spokeswoman said its Best Western Mayaguez Resort & Casino in Puerto Rico "suffered quite a bit of damage" and was taken off the hotel's reservation system until Oct. 4. She said there is water and roof damage to the structure and that it is without electricity.
Best Western Carib Beach Resort in St. Thomas, U.S.V.I., suffered minor damage to the roof of the building, water damage to several rooms and damage to the pool deck, the spokeswoman said. It is expected to be back in full operation by Oct. 15, she said.
While total insured estimates from Hurricane Georges are not available yet, it is no doubt the most powerful and destructive hurricane of the season.
Property damage from last month's Hurricane Bonnie totaled about $360 million in three Southeastern states, a majority coming from North Carolina, according to PCS. Hurricane Earl, which hit Florida's Panhandle, Georgia and South Carolina late last month, cost the insurance industry less than $50 million, according to the Insurance Information Institute (BI, Sept. 7).
As Hurricane Georges battered down on Florida last Friday, it was too early to assess if total damages would be enough to affect pricing in the soft property insurance market.
"We're certainly not professionals at rate-making," said Jack McCutchen, managing executive of Sedgwick of Florida Inc. in Fort Lauderdale. "Obviously, any natural disaster causes insurers to re-evaluate their positions. We can only hope that the storm turns north out of the Atlantic and does not cause us to address that situation. We just don't know at this point."
Amanda Milligan contributed to this report.