Post-hurricane Houston, Florida, and Puerto Rico? Bill Read weighs in…

Comments are largely out of sight in the blogosphere and too often are lost or unread as a consequence. They deserve better! That’s certainly the case with Bill Read’s comments on yesterday’s post. He makes three powerful points: (1) the scale of the recent disasters has been so great that America is experiencing sticker shock and looking for not full recovery so much as recovery-lite. (2) In fact, today’s loss figures and recovery-cost estimates are likely to lowball the true sums. (3) We’re going about recovery in a way that will likely lead to repetitive loss in the future.

Worth the read, because of both substance and source; Bill is the former director of NOAA’s National Hurricane Center, and knows whereof he speaks. Have taken the liberty of repeating his comment verbatim, in its entirety:

And then there are the islands in the Caribbean from Barbuda, Dominica, and St Martin westward through the Virgin Islands that were decimated far worse than the Keys, but like the Keys are heavily dependent on tourism for their economy. They seem to have fallen out of sight on the news. What little I can find suggests only slow progress has been made in recovery on most of these islands because the damage was so severe and the amount of support needed to make more rapid improvements does not exist.

Usually I have the sense that initial estimates of cost of disasters run too high. Not this time – I suspect we will find they are too low. I also get the sense from post Harvey meetings I have attended that the consensus is that the loss numbers will be too high for Washington to stomach thus the Federal recovery $$$ response will be less percentage wise than in past disasters for any one of these storms…hence the piece meal funding authorized so far.

I happen to live in the Harvey disaster area, though was very fortunate to have not flooded. A number of friends not so lucky and are in various stages of recovery and rebuilding. From what I see happening here in the Houston area, recovery will mostly be to restore everything to the pre-Harvey condition with only modest mitigation – it just costs so much to fix what we have in harms way down here (and most already heavily developed coastal areas, for that matter). Less than 30% of the flooded properties had flood insurance, so people have to secure loans to rebuild. The added cost of elevating a slab house (minimum $100,000) is out of reach for most home owners. Buyouts have been proposed but only for the homes that have severe repetitive loss, which only number in the low thousands of homes. There is only so much engineering that can be done to increase drainage for neighborhoods and reduce flood levels on the bayous given the geography we have built on, and even that small amount is costly to do. New normal will mean hundreds of thousands of people sweating out every heavy rain event wondering if “oh no, here we go again”. There will likely be a huge increase in purchases of flood insurance, but at what cost? Oh, and by the way, Congress needs to reauthorize the NFIP…

Thanks, Bill!

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