Hurricane Gustav insurance claims could reach $10 billion, not as high as was first predicted when the then-Category 3 storm was churning in the Gulf of Mexico. Fortunately fears that Gustav would be a repeat of Hurricane Katrina – which cost insurers $41 billion – were not realized.
Hurricane Gustav came ashore the Louisiana Gulf Coast on Monday. Forecasters had feared that Gustav could come ashore as a catastrophic Category 4 storm, but the storm weakened to a Category 2 storm by the time it reached land. Damage from the storm’s winds and storm surge spanned from the Gulf Coast of Mississippi to Texas. Even after it weakened to a tropical storm, heavy rains and possible tornadoes spawned by Gustav’s heavy were expected to cause additional damage.
Unlike Katrina, levees in New Orleans and some surrounding communities held – although in some case just barely – sparing the area the catastrophic flooding that was seen in 2005.
By Tuesday, insurance companies had already deployed their adjusters to the Gulf Coast. According to Calif.-based Risk Management Solutions Inc., early estimates put losses on land at between $3 billion to $7 billion and oil-drilling damage at about $1 billion to $3 billion. According to Forbes.com, other reported estimates placed insured losses on land ranging from $6 billion to $10 billion, primarily in Louisiana.
However, the Forbes article said that those numbers might not be accurate since computerized data on insurance losses may understate actual costs because they don’t include damage to uninsured property or destruction caused by actions excluded from some policies, such as flooding.
So far however, flooding does not appear to be a major contributor to damages in the hurricane zone. Matt Bordonaro, spokesman for The Travelers Group, told Forbes that “We are seeing more of a wind event, than a flood event.”
Hopefully, victims of Hurricane Gustav will have an easier time with their insurance claims than was experienced following Katrina. Faced with staggering losses, insurers used many tactics to avoid paying Katrina damage claims. The fact that so much flooding occurred during Katrina aided the companies in their efforts. One of the major tactics that insurance companies used in Katrina was to find that property damage was caused by flooding, and not by wind. Conventional property insurance does not cover flood damage.
There is some evidence that some insurers acted fraudulently when finding that Katrina damage was caused by flooding. According to a 2007 investigation by Bloomberg.com, one engineer who examined damaged Gulf Coast homes for insurers alleged that some of his reports were altered by the companies to say that homes were damaged by flood, and not by wind. Such tactics led more than 1000 Katrina homeowners to sue their insurance companies over claims, the largest number of lawsuits ever to follow a natural disaster in the US.