What is the Economic Impact of Natural Disasters?

(TFC) – This year’s hurricane season has been more intense than usual. The flooding in Texas was unprecedented, and Hurricane Irma slammed into the Caribbean islands and Florida, leaving devastation behind.

The result is that it’s going to cost a lot of money to clean everything up. The flooding is one thing, but the hurricanes did a lot more than that. There’s damage to tourism, agriculture and oil industries all over. So far, Hurricane Katrina was the most expensive hurricane to hit the US, and some predictions claim that Harvey will top it. We probably won’t know the full impact of this season for a few more months, but it’s certain to be substantial.

Local Impacts

One of the biggest issues that arose as soon as Harvey hit was the fact that so many people in flooded areas had no flood insurance. Estimates put Harvey’s damage at around 40,000 homes. That’s 40,000 families who have lost their home and part of their lives. Those scars might not heal for decades.

Then Irma hit. Some of the islands that took the brunt of the impact were absolutely shattered. These areas have a long, hard road to getting them back on their feet. Then, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. The damage there has been catastrophic, and even though it tends to be forgotten, the island is part of the United States. Even so, help hasn’t arrived the way it should have and people are struggling to get food, water, fuel and the basic necessities of life.

Even when you aren’t looking at the emotional devastation, the sheer amount of money it’s going to cost to get everything back in working order is astounding. Not including Maria, repairs for the US mainland are estimated to be around $290 billion. At least in Florida, most people have insurance. Victims in Texas weren’t so lucky.

An astonishing 80% of the people whose homes flooded in Texas do not have flood insurance. This is likely to be devastating to those individuals. The federal government is unlikely to cover the bills for all of those houses, which will leave a lot of people out of luck and out of funds. In the time it will take to complete cleanup for the worst-hit areas, many of those people might just find other homes.

Hitting Farther from Home

If you’ve driven anywhere recently, you may have noticed an uptick in gas prices. They’ve steadily climbed all over the US, but it looks like we may be on the downward swing. Consumers are sure to feel the impact until the oil refineries can get back on their feet and start producing regularly again. Harvey hit the oil refineries in Texas hard. Some of them are the biggest in the US, and the area overall is responsible for more than 25% of US gasoline production.

In Florida, crops were already suffering from issues that have been devastating the citrus crops for the past few years. Now, they also have to contend with the damage unleashed from Irma. The Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association puts the numbers at 50-70% product loss, which will have a grave impact on Florida and the rest of the US. It’s just an estimate at this point, though, and is likely to change. This effect should be relatively short-lived, like the gas prices, and will hopefully only last for the rest of the season.

But a bigger issue for Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico is that people left or are still leaving. And some of those people may never come back. Florida has the best chance of permanent recovery, but they are likely to face a slim workforce this season, combined with damaged fields and a damaged crop.

In Texas, it’s likely that many people will never return to the areas they once lived. If we look at past events, you can see that some people never returned after Katrina hit. With the cleanup from Harvey expected to take years, it’s likely that a similar scenario will occur.

By SC National Guard -, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Then you have Puerto Rico, which relies heavily on the tourism and pharmaceuticals industries. The island experienced severe damage, and even once the locals regain stability, they will also face a long and extended cleanup. The island accounts for about 25% of the US’s pharmaceutical exports. Right now, those factories are at risk.

Hurricane season comes every year, so the companies in Puerto Rico can prepare for it. They’ve planned for this just like they have every other year. The risk doesn’t come in the form of short-term damage or drug shortages, both of which would be devastating to an already beleaguered area. The more likely scenario is that some of these places may sustain long-term damage. That would harm the industry in Puerto Rico and leave it more vulnerable to another storm. The loss of income would be the biggest blow.

The reality is that the entire country, and others outside of it, will be affected by this hurricane season. It’s one for the record books, but not in a positive way. There’s no way to figure out what the total impact will be until cleanup is complete. The biggest thing is getting everyone safe and settled. Until then, everything else is secondary. But the country will certainly be feeling the impacts for a long while yet.

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