August 9, 2017
By Jennifer Kay, Associated Press
Twenty-five years after Hurricane Andrew struck south of Miami, the city’s vulnerability to catastrophic storm damage has grown exponentially, according to a new insurance underwriters’ analysis.
At the time, the Category 5 storm was the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history, causing more than $26 billion of damage in Florida’s most populous areas, including $15.5 billion in insurance payouts. Stringent building code enforcement followed in Miami but so did population growth, coastal development and climate change.
“Our concerns lie with the fact that even though we’ve made good changes, 25 years later you have a much larger population living in Florida, and people forget what can happen or they don’t know what could happen,” said Monica Ningen, chief property underwriter for the U.S. and Canada at Swiss Re.
The Switzerland-based reinsurance company released an analysis Wednesday estimating the losses if a hurricane similar to Andrew’s size and strength hit Miami and its suburbs today.
If a similar hurricane barreled down the same track today, Swiss Re estimates damage would range from $80 billion to $100 billion, including up to $60 billion in insured losses.
Should a similar hurricane target Miami directly, Swiss Re estimates unprecedented losses: $100 billion to $300 billion, including insured losses up to $180 billion.
On Aug. 24, 1992, Andrew blasted ashore about 20 miles southwest of Miami with winds topping 165 mph. The hurricane killed 15 people and indirectly caused the deaths of 25 more in Miami-Dade County alone, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Andrew destroyed 25,524 homes and damaged another 101,241; nearly all the mobile homes in its path were completely lost.
For all the extreme conditions Andrew produced, storm surge flooding from the compact hurricane was relatively minor in Florida. The abnormal rise of sea levels, driven ashore by storm winds, can be a hurricane’s most deadly hazard, but no one died because of Andrew’s storm surge — a fact the hurricane center considered “a fortunate aberration.”
According to hurricane center records, only $96 million in federal flood claims were reported after Andrew.
Rising sea levels caused by climate change is expected to worsen storm surge flooding. Even a moderate rise of 3.5 inches by the 2030s could increase storm-surge-related losses along South Florida’s coastline to roughly $11 billion, said Megan Linkin, a meteorologist and natural hazards expert at Swiss Re.
That’s particularly troubling because even a tropical storm can cause major coastal flooding.
For example, Sandy’s enormous size drove catastrophic storm surge onto the New Jersey and New York coastlines even though the storm weakened and lost its tropical characteristics before making landfall in October 2012. Causing more than $50 billion in losses, Sandy now ranks as the second most costly hurricane to hit the U.S., ahead of Andrew and surpassed by only Hurricane Katrina.