Hurricane Irma, which made landfall east of Key West more than a week ago, has already generated almost 20,000 federal flood insurance claims totaling billions of dollars in Florida — on track to be “comparable” to or exceed the damages from Hurricane Harvey in Texas, a senior U.S. official said Tuesday.
Roy E. Wright, head of the National Flood Insurance Program, estimated that tens of thousands of claims ultimately would be filed by Florida households hit by Irma-fueled storm surge from the Florida Keys to South Florida to Jacksonville.
Based on models, he also said the number of claims in the aftermath of Irma could reach as high as 100,000 —similar to the total for Harvey, where flooding devastated Houston for days last month. Both were Category 4 storms when they made landfall.
Wright, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood insurance director, predicted that total damage claims from Irma-related flooding will be “several billion dollars” in Florida. But he also said the state’s damages could exceed those in Harvey, which total $11 billion so far, mainly because of Irma’s flooding of expensive waterfront properties in Florida.
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Corelogic, an analytics firm, has estimated the total flood loss for residential properties in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina will likely range between $25 billion and $38 billion.
FEMA’s Wright told the Miami Herald that Florida’s numbers will start to increase significantly this week as households in the hardest-hit areas such as the Florida Keys continue to file damage claims with FEMA.
“It’s a little too early to know the full impact of this storm,” Wright said in an interview. “We usually see the numbers accelerate in weeks two and three. We’re coming into that now as people get back into their homes.”
“The Keys’ number is going to grow faster because the people in the Lower Keys just started returning to their homes,” he added.
Wright said the hardest-hit flood areas are the Keys, which has generated 20 percent of the claims so far, and Miami-Dade, Broward, Lee, Collier and Duval counties, with 10 percent each. He said the balance of claims are coming from other parts of Florida.
In Florida, 1.7 million households have federal flood insurance, the most of any state in the country. There are 5.5 million policyholders with U.S. flood coverage nationwide.
Florida households with federal flood insurance policies can claim up to $250,000 in damages on a structure and up to an additional $100,000 for personal contents, such as appliances, furniture and and clothing.
Wright said policyholders should take lots of photos of flood damage to their homes to file along with their insurance claims.
In addition, he said that anyone without flood insurance who lives in a single-family home, condominium, apartment or trailer who suffered storm-related damage in Florida may qualify for FEMA funds.
He described the payments as a “life vest” to hold people over temporarily — in the low thousands of dollars — much less than the distributions to households with flood insurance policies.
So far, he said, FEMA has received 142,000 claims of this nature and distributed $153 million in Florida.
Rene Rodriguez contributed to this report.