The storm system entered Florida on Wednesday, tearing through the western and central portions of the state at nearly the power of a Category 5 storm. With winds exceeding 150 miles per hour, Hurricane Ian regained speed on Friday before impacting South Carolina.
Fitch Ratings noted that insurance specialists in Florida have “suffered financial losses and diminished capital in recent years,” leaving them “vulnerable to large catastrophic events that generate losses in excess of reinsurance limits,” according to a statement. The company projects between $25 billion and $40 billion in insured losses — a figure that rivals the $36 billion of damage induced by Hurricane Ida last year and falls short of the $65 billion in losses caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“Many insurers providing property coverage in the state experienced severe downturns in underwriting performance and capitalization levels in recent years despite no hurricane hitting the state since 2018,” Fitch explained. “This trend has forced a number of smaller insurers into liquidation, exacerbating the challenges for policyholders of finding private market homeowners insurance coverage. The hurricane is expected to worsen the reinsurance capacity crisis for insurers, potentially causing the exit of more Florida specialist companies.”
Florida produced $1.3 trillion in output last year, indicating that Hurricane Ian may inflict damage as high as 3% of the Sunshine State’s economy.
Floridians have reported nearly $1.5 billion in insurance claims as of early Monday afternoon, including claims from more than 143,000 residential property owners and 2,380 commercial property holders, according to data from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. Slightly more than 2% of the more than 186,000 claims have thus far been settled.
Meanwhile, DRBS Morningstar projected that the economic fallout from Hurricane Ian would likely exceed the $50 billion loss from Hurricane Irma in 2017. The firm also pinned insured losses between $25 billion and $40 billion.
“Given a storm path and intensity similar to Hurricane Charley and considering the substantial increase in population and property values in Southwest Florida, economic losses could potentially reach above $50 billion, which would be a record for a Florida-centric storm,” DRBS Vice President for Insurance Patrick Douville said in a statement. “Claims arising from Ian will support the trend of property risk in Florida being more and more expensive and difficult to insure.”
The Florida Disaster Fund has raised more than $21 million in financial assistance for residents as of Sunday, according to a press release from the office of Governor Ron DeSantis (R). First responders have rescued more than 1,600 people, while roughly 42,000 linemen are responding to over 840,000 power outages. In areas such as Charlotte County and Lee County, power outage rates sit near 60%.
Only 29% of individuals in the nine counties with a disaster declaration approved by the White House have flood insurance. Some portions of western Florida experienced storm surges as high as 18 feet, causing difficulties for officials attempting rescue efforts.
U.S. Coast Guard Deputy Commandant Peter Gautier, who aided in the responses to Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Harvey, described Hurricane Ian as “up there” in terms of severity during an interview with Fox News. “What we haven’t seen traditionally is the combination of massive storm surge from the wind-driven waves and water coming from the ocean and up into the rivers,” he said, likewise referencing “the historic amount of rain in such a short period of time.”