Category Archives: Catastrophes

Flood Vehicles: Avoid Purchasing a Washed-Up Vehicle

One of the many devastations of the floods that accompanied Hurricane Harvey is the destruction of a up to a million vehicles worth as much as $4.9 billion.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) has issued a news release warning consumers that vehicles flooded by Hurricane Harvey may soon be appearing for sale around the nation.   By definition, a flood vehicle has been completely or partially submerged in water to the extent that its body, engine, transmission or other mechanical component parts have been damaged. If the vehicle is so damaged that it is no longer operable, the driver’s insurance company settles the claim by buying the vehicle and selling it as a “salvage” at an auto auction.

Dishonest and unscrupulous car dealers buy the vehicles, dry and clean them, yet leave plenty of hidden flood damage. They then transport the vehicles to states unaffected by the storm or natural disaster and sell them as used vehicles to unsuspecting buyers. These dishonest dealers will not disclose the damage on the vehicle’s title as they are required, which is a crime called “title washing.” The vehicles are then sold with the hidden damage. More facts about flooded cars can he found here.

The NICB’s VINCheck is a free public service that allows car buyers to see whether a vehicle has ever been declared as “salvage” or a total loss by an NICB member that participates in the program.

Hurricane Irma Likely to Make Landfall in Florida or the Southeast U.S.; Devastating Winds and Storm Surge Expected

Hurricane Irma tore through the Caribbean on September 6th and 7th leaving destruction in its wake. At least seven fatalities were reported as well as 95 percent of St. Martin destroyed and 70 percent of Puerto Rico’s households without power. The storm is headed towards Turks and Caicos and Haiti.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott urged all Florida residents to be prepared to evacuate with the National Hurricane Center  warning the storm could reach South Florida by Sunday.

The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) has issued this press release today urging anyone in the path of the storm to make  safety their first priority. The I.I.I. recommends that Floridians recall the lessons from Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Wilma in 2005. Not only can high winds be deadly; storm surge is also a serious threat to human life. Residents near coastal areas and inland bodies of water should have a plan for evacuating from flood-prone areas—and be ready to put that plan into action. The release contains many useful disaster preparedness tips.

Historical Perspective: How Does 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season Compare to Most Active Past Seasons?

Phil Klotzbach, lead author of the Colorado State University (CSU) hurricane forecasting team, and I.I.I. non-resident scholar delivers this perspective.

After a relatively mild start, the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season has become drastically more active over the past couple of weeks. Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas as a Category 4 hurricane, bringing devastating rains to the Houston metropolitan area, causing at least 70 fatalities and economic losses estimated as high as $108 billion.  Following hot on its heels, Hurricane Irma developed off of Cabo Verde and has intensified into a devastating Category 5 hurricane.  Irma has wreaked death and devastation across the northern Leeward Islands, and after brushing the northern coast of by Puerto Rico, the cyclone is tracking across the Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas, and appears headed toward Florida and the southeast United States.  While landfall of a major (Category 3+ on the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale – maximum sustained winds of 111 mph or greater) hurricane in the United States seems likely at this point, it is important to realize that other years in the recent past brought major storms in rapid succession.

During the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season, a total of five hurricanes made landfall (Charley, Frances, Gaston, Ivan and Jeanne), with four significantly impacting the state of Florida.  Prior to Harvey’s landfall, Charley was the last Category 4 hurricane to make landfall, doing so in SW Florida.  Both Frances and Jeanne made landfall near Stuart, FL as a Category 2 and Category 3 hurricane, respectively.  Ivan made landfall near Mobile, AL and brought significant storm surge and wind damage to both Alabama and the Florida Peninsula.  Total economic losses from that year are estimated at $71 billion.


Hot on the heels of the 2004 season, the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season had the most named storms (28) and hurricanes (15) on record.  It also had five landfalling hurricanes, including four major landfalling hurricanes (Dennis, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma).  Dennis made landfall on the Florida panhandle causing considerable damage there, while Katrina was a large Category 3 hurricane that caused intensive surge and wind-related destruction along the Mississippi coastline as well as triggering the levee failure that caused massive flooding in New Orleans.  More than 1,500 fatalities occurred in Katrina.  Rita made landfall several weeks later in SW Louisiana, also causing significant surge and wind-related damage.  Then Wilma rounded out the season, becoming the strongest storm on record in the Atlantic (as measured by central pressure); making landfall as a Category 3 hurricane in SW Florida.  All told, the season caused $208 billion in damage.


While the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season has been devastating already, and continued destruction with Irma looks likely, the two recent years of 2004 and 2005 were also incredibly deadly and destructive.  The United States has enjoyed a great string of luck since 2005, with NO major (Category 3 or greater) hurricane landfalls. Harvey, of course, brought that streak to an end.  Unfortunately, it looks like we may have another very significant United States landfall hot on Harvey’s heels.

The Get-Ready Checklist

There are many useful tips for preparing for a disaster, but what do you do when one is bearing down upon you and you only have a few days or even hours to prepare? Here is a list of tips we’ve assembled:

If you remain at home

If you don’t need to relocate, stay indoors. Don’t go out during the brief calm when the eye of the storm passes over. Wind speeds can increase dramatically in seconds.

  • Stay away from windows and glass doors and move furniture away from exposed doors and windows.
  • Stay on the downwind side of house. If your home has an “inside” room, stay there during the height of the hurricane.
  • Keep the radio or television tuned for information from official sources.
  • Without taking any unnecessary risks, protect your property from damage. Making temporary repairs can reduce your losses.
  • Line the bathtub with plastic sheeting or a clean shower curtain, or caulk the drain with silicone caulking — it holds water for weeks and cleans up easily when dry. Plan on three gallons per person, per day for all uses (including flushing the toilet).

 Prepare an evacuation plan

In an emergency you may have only a few minutes to gather your important papers and leave your home, possibly for good. Have the following ready to go:

  • Medicines, prescriptions, comfort items and a change of clothes.
  • Emergency supplies such as flashlights, radio, batteries and water.
  • Computer hard drive or laptop.
  • Insurance policies; birth and marriage certificates; wills; deeds; financial information such as account numbers, recent tax returns, stocks, bonds and other negotiable certificates; driver’s licenses and other personal identification.
  • Take warm, protective clothing and remember to lock windows and doors.

After the hurricane, dangers remain!

The storm may have passed, but new dangers lurk.

  • Beware of outdoor hazards. Keep away from loose or dangling power lines, and report them immediately to the proper authority.
  • Walk or drive cautiously, washouts may weaken road and bridge structures.
  • In the event of a power outage, throw out food that may be spoiled. Boil municipal water before drinking until you have been told it is safe.

Additional resources:

Hurricane Awareness

Preparing For A Hurricane

Making Your Home More Hurricane Resistant: Five Steps 

Infographic: This Hurricane Season, Lock in Peace of Mind

The Florida Sun Sentinel Hurricane Guide

Harvey vs. Irma: Every Hurricane is Different

Hurricane Irma begins its assault, while Texas and Louisiana begin the long road to recovery from Hurricane Harvey.

No one, of course, knows exactly what damage Irma will unleash, but it is likely to be quite different from what Harvey wrought. That’s because no two storms are alike.

Business Insider touches on the differences:

While Harvey’s record rains drenched southeastern Texas and western Louisiana, flooding Houston in over 4 feet of rainfall, Irma’s winds — if they stay as strong as they were on Tuesday evening — could flatten buildings, trees, and power lines on the Caribbean islands it’s threatening to devour.

At its peak, Harvey was a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, but its weakened winds downgraded it to a tropical storm the day after it made landfall. Irma, meanwhile, is a Category 5 monster that’s already one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes ever recorded — and it’s still strengthening.

Meanwhile, Live Science laments the problems with shoehorning all the complexities of a hurricane into a single number, like Category 5.

As a Category 4 storm, Harvey’s winds meaning landfall blew between 130 and 156 mph. But catastrophe modeling firm RMS said the storm packed only one-fifth the total energy of Hurricane Ike, a Category 2 storm that struck the same area in 2008.

Harvey became an enormous flood because the storm lost almost all its forward momentum upon reaching land.

Meanwhile Irma is among the most powerful storms ever to cross the Atlantic, but doesn’t threaten a Harvey-like deluge. It is delivering, however, bark-shredding winds that will cause catastrophic damage.

Both storms, though, are tragedies.

Harvey survivors can learn more about filing flood insurance claims here. They can learn about filing other insurance claims here. For other types of federal disaster assistance, click here.

If you are bracing yourself for Irma, FEMA has advice here.

Irma strikes Leeward Islands, Forecast to Turn North Toward Florida

Associated Press (via NY Daily News):

The most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history made its first landfall in the islands of the northeast Caribbean early Wednesday, churning along a path pointing to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida over the weekend.

The eye of Hurricane Irma passed over Barbuda around 1:47 a.m., the National Weather Service said. Residents said over local radio that phone lines went down. Heavy rain and howling winds raked the neighboring island of Antigua, sending debris flying as people huddled in their homes or government shelters.

CNN notes that the eye of the storm was bigger than the island of Barbuda.

The forecast is for the storm to swing north toward Florida, as you can see in the National Hurricane Center cone illustration above. A South Florida strike is forecast four or five days from now.

FEMA – the Federal Emergency Management Agency – has information on how to prepare for a hurricane.

Hurricane Irma: Still a Threat

Sunday night, as Hurricane Irma toggles between Category 2 and Category 3, Weather Underground gives us the . . .

Bottom line: Irma is a growing threat to the Leeward Islands, the Greater Antilles, and the Eastern Bahamas. Irma is expected to be drawing closer to the East Coast as a powerful Category 4 hurricane this weekend, but it is still too soon to predict the timing and location of any potential landfall with confidence, and it is still possible Irma will move out to sea.

Do you have a hurricane plan?

  • Yes: Make sure it is ready to go.
  • No: Here are some basics on what you need.

FEMA: Applying for Disaster Assistance

This just came in an email blast from FEMA, along with an accompanying pdf:

FEMA encourages ALL individuals affected by Hurricane Harvey to register for disaster assistance—even if they have flood insurance.

At this time, FEMA is encouraging individuals to register through the website at: www.disasterassistance.gov. There is the ability to register by phone however; as expected there will be wait time when calling 1-800-631-6632 (FEMA).

FEMA’s disaster assistance can provide:
· Temporary housing
· Lodging expenses reimbursement
· Repair
· Replacement
· Permanent or Semi-Permanent Housing Construction

It can also provide the following available:
· Disaster-caused child care expenses
· Disaster-caused medical and dental expenses.
· Disaster-caused funeral and burial expenses.
· Disaster-caused damages to essential household items (room furnishings, appliances); clothing; tools (specialized or protective clothing and equipment) required for your job; necessary educational materials (computers, school books, supplies).
· Fuel for the primary heat source (heating oil, gas).
· Clean-up items (wet/dry vacuum, dehumidifier).
· Disaster-caused damage to an essential vehicle.
· Moving and storage expenses caused by the disaster (moving and storage of personal property while repairs are being made to the primary residence, and returning property to the primary address).
· Other necessary expenses or serious needs as determined by FEMA.
· Other expenses that are authorized by law.

At registration:
· At time of registration and inspection, applicants are required to inform FEMA of all insurance coverage that may be available to them to meet their disaster-caused needs. FEMA does not require denial of insurance coverage before people call 800-621-3362 to register for FEMA assistance.
· Applicants who only have homeowners insurance but have sustained flood damage are not required to submit insurance documentation to receive FEMA Rental Assistance or financial assistance for real or personal property disaster-caused damage.
· Applicants are not required to submit homeowners-insurance documents to FEMA before FEMA will consider their eligibility for financial assistance for any real property damage caused by flood.

For more information on FEMA’s Individual Disaster Assistance, please see https://www.fema.gov/individual-disaster-assistance.

Hurricane Irma: Not Too Soon to Prepare

The tragedy of Hurricane Harvey continues, but Hurricane Irma lurks.

As I write this (1 p.m. Saturday) Irma has sustained winds of 110 mph, which puts it at the top of Category 2 status. It could reach Cat 4 soon, according to the National Weather Service, and its path could take it to the East Coast by mid-week.

If you live along the East Coast – and with Harvey fresh in mind – it really, really makes sense to make sure Irma doesn’t surprise you.

FEMA gives a complete rundown of what to do before and after a storm here.

 

The Insurance Industry’s Hurricane Relief Efforts

In addition to settling insurance claims the insurance industry is also strongly committed to raising charitable funds for victims of recent hurricanes.

September 26

The IICF announced the establishment of a new disaster relief fund to assist those affected by the catastrophic damage of Hurricane Irma. To donate to the IICF Hurricane Irma Relief Find click here.

The IICF also announced today that the insurance industry has already donated millions of dollars in relief. The figure is believed to already exceed $15 million, industry-wide.

September 19

  • To date, the IICF’s Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief Fund has raised more than $400,000 to help the affected communities – through both company contributions and individual donations from 1,000 insurance professionals.
  • Allstate and The Allstate Foundation will commit $3 million to assist people affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, as well as potential future disasters, doubling its initial pledge of $1.5 million.

September 1

The Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF), a nonprofit organization that unites the insurance industry in helping communities and enriching lives through grants, volunteer service and leadership, has established a Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief Fund to assist victims affected by this catastrophic storm.

Within 24 hours of establishing the IICF Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief Fund, nearly $80,000 has already been committed by those in the insurance industry.  John Vasturia, President, Specialty Markets, Munich Reinsurance America and IICF Board of Governors Chair, noted that, “Through IICF, we are able to very quickly unite our efforts in collecting donations, and distribute to local nonprofits in the Texas communities who will be able to help families across the region in a very real and meaningful way.”

IICF will collect and report on the total of all donations made through this fund, and forward 100% of these insurance industry contributions to the local nonprofits assisting victims in the area, including the American Red Cross and specifically its Hurricane Harvey disaster fund. Donations can made by clicking here.

The USAA Foundation, Inc. has pledged to assist the Hurricane Harvey rescue and recovery efforts with a $1 million grant. In addition to the grant from the Foundation, USAA introduced a donation program for its 32,000 employees worldwide, committing to matching their contributions, dollar for dollar, up to a total of $150,000. That total was met in less than six hours, so the matching grant was boosted Wednesday to $500,000, raising the potential contribution from USAA and its employees to at least $1 million, on top of the $1 million pledge from The Foundation.
Other insurance companies that are raising funds for Hurricane Harvey victims include: The Nationwide Foundation, which is giving $500,000 to Red Cross Disaster Relief and State Farm which is matching employee donations through its Matching Gift Program.

If you work for an insurance company or trade group that is raising funds for Hurricane Harvey victims please let us know about it by emailing marias@iii.org