Irene’s Aftermath: As Much as $7 Billion in Damage
Life + Money

Irene’s Aftermath: As Much as $7 Billion in Damage

AP Photo/The Daily Herald, Vyto Starinskas

Hurricane Irene passed through New York City and on up into New England over the weekend, as weather forecasters and other experts had expected, inflicting total damage that may reach $7 billion when all is said and done, according to an early estimate by the Kinetic Analysis Corporation, a risk-management firm based in Silver Spring, Maryland.

“This value includes insured and uninsured physical damages, government and private spending to clean up after the storm, and unrecovered expenses for business interruption,” reported Mike Maynard in the Wall Street Journal this morning.

But the $7 billion is considerably less than others had predicted earlier, including Friday’s worst-case economic scenario by statistician Nate Silver, who crunched the data for his New York Times blog, Five Thirty Eight. Silver had put Irene’s possible damage in the vicinity of $35 billion, noting that even though the Big Apple has the largest municipal budget in the U.S., “The city would require significant assistance from state and federal authorities. He’d also said he thought that Irene “could tangibly increase the chance of a recession.”

UBS, for its part, said on Monday that insured losses should be modest, estimating them at about $3 billion.
While Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm shortly before it punched New York in the gut, it still left a broad swath of destruction in its wake along the Northeast coast. Many communities continued to suffer major inland flooding on Monday afternoon. The focus of clean-up and recovery efforts has now shifted to restoring power, rebuilding essential infrastructure, removing downed trees and branches, and assessing the structural damage from wind and water to buildings in many communities.

Thinking the worst was over by Sunday night, a homeowner in lower Westchester County, New York, was stunned when a 75-foot oak tree on her front lawn suddenly lost its mooring in the saturated ground and crashed to the ground. Fortunately, the tree hit neither the house nor any power lines, though it left a gaping hole in her yard. Chain-saw crews were in the process of removing the dead wood on Monday morning. 

Other numbers and stories that have emerged since Irene left town:

  • While the damages were less than many had feared, Irene was still among the worst hurricanes ever to hit the United States, according to analysts at Morgan Stanley, a Wall Street investment bank. “Irene is likely to rank among the top 10 costliest U.S. hurricanes and within the top 20 when equalizing for inflation," Morgan Stanley said in a research note.
  • At least 29 people in six states lost their lives. Millions of homes have suffered power outages. New York City’s entire mass-transit system was shut down and by Monday morning, was only just beginning to get back on its feet. The Metro North train system remained shuttered as crews worked to remove debris from the rails. At least one station’s tracks were completely under water, in Ossining, while two stations suffered mudslides.
  • In New Jersey, the town of Cranford, like so many other communities, suffered extreme damage from winds, rain and flooding. The Cranford Police Department had to be evacuated because of flooding, while areas in the center of town were also flooded. The First Aid Squad was also flooded.
  • Vermont battled what was believed to be its worst flooding in 84 years. At least one person, a 21-year-old woman, was killed and more than 50,000 people were left without power.
  • Airlines canceled some 11,000 flights in total last weekend, from North Carolina to Boston. On Saturday alone, there were more than 3,600 cancellations.
  • People across the Northeast flooded supermarkets and chain retailers like Wal-Mart and Home Depot to stock up on food and survival items. One surprisingly popular item: pop-tarts. “Wal-Mart has learned that Strawberry Pop-Tarts are on the most purchased food items especially after storms, as they require no heating, can be used at any meal, and last forever,” Steve Horwitz, an economist who studied Wal-Mart’s response to Hurricane Katrina, told ABC News.