HARVEY: USD 70-90 billion economic losses shows the RMS analysis

31 August 2017 — Daniela GHETU
Economic losses caused by wind, storm surge, and inland flood from Hurricane Harvey could be as high as USD 70-90 billion, analysis by RMS, a global risk modeling and analytics firm has found.

The majority of the overall loss is likely to be from inland flooding in the Houston metropolitan area, where there are over seven million properties representing over USD 1.5 trillion in value.

Considerable uncertainties around final losses remain, as the flooding is still ongoing and will take some weeks to come to an end. Accordingly, this preliminary RMS analysis of potential economic loss will be updated - and it's emphasized that today's announcement is not the RMS official insurance loss estimate.

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.

Michael YOUNG, RMS head of Americas climate risk modeling, said: "Hurricane Harvey has already broken all U.S. records for tropical cyclone-driven extreme rainfall, with observed cumulative amounts of 51 inches. And with the rain still falling heavily and the waters rising, the situation is too fast-moving to be stating with certainty what the losses in Texas could be. We have used the power of the new RMS U.S. High Definition Flood Model to give valuable, preliminary insights to our clients. It will be followed by an official insurance loss estimate in the coming weeks."

The models project that the overall economic loss will be $70-90 billion. The majority of these losses will be uninsured, given that private flood insurance is limited. However, although the insured losses will remain uncertain for some time they will be significant, as private coverage is not consistent: there are significant variations in how coverage is provided by individual insurers.

Coverage for some of the residential losses has been provided by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). There are approximately 500,000 NFIP policies that will be affected by Harvey, and the losses to the program will be very significant - potentially the largest event to date. However, NFIP penetration rates are as low as 20% in the Houston area, and thus most of the losses will be uninsured. This will rekindle the public policy debate around this issue.

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