ONE IN FIVE HOMES IN FLORIDA WAS DAMAGED by this year's hurricanes, and the impact on the home building industry is just starting to be felt. Hurricane Andrew cost America 0.5 percent of its GDP in 1992; the tab for Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne could top that.
The New York-based Insurance Information Institute said that it expects the industry to pay out more than the $15.5 billion in insurance claims that resulted from Andrew, which devastated southern Florida in 1992.
The insurance group has estimated that the insured damage from Hurricane Charley will reach $6.8 billion and that from Hurricane Frances the insured damage could reach $4 billion to $5 billion. Fitch Ratings has estimated the cost for Ivan at $4 billion to $10 billion.
The figures do not include damage from flooding, which isn't covered by private companies, said a spokeswoman for the insurance group. The federal government underwrites flood insurance, but only about one-fourth of households buy it, according to the group.
New homes constructed under demanding post-Andrew building codes survived well. But experts say they expect that this unusually active hurricane season will cause legislators and consumer advocates to push for uniform building codes, buried power lines, and tax breaks for homeowners who install storm shutters in response to the recent wave of storms.
The Insurance Information Institute said it expects total claims from this year's hurricanes to exceed 1 million, surpassing the 700,000 filed for Hurricane Andrew. But the appeal of coastal living remains strong. “People are more inclined to move to the most disaster-prone areas of the country—Florida, Texas, and California,” observes Insurance Information Institute chief economist Bob Hartwig. “Those states that have the greatest appeal for quality of life also happen to be the most dangerous to live in,” he says.