March 26th, 2009

2008 Nat Cat Event Summary, Part III

Posted at 1:00 AM ET

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Event summaries are listed in chronological order.

Floods in the United States

Heavy rain triggered severe floods across the U.S. Midwest from late May to early June, inundating up to 40,000 homes and businesses. Reports said the flooding was the worst to hit the Midwest for 15 years and caused billions of dollars of damage to crops. Bridges and highways were swamped, factories were forced to shut down and water and power utilities damaged.

Record volumes of rainfall, up to one foot in some areas, fell onto saturated ground and triggered flooding in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and Wisconsin, as the Mississippi River and its tributaries burst their banks and breached defenses. Reports said that several river levels surpassed those reached in the Great Floods of 1993. Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois were hit hardest when runoff from the torrential rain fed the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.

The Mississippi River, which passes through 10 states from its source in Minnesota to its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico and is engorged by water from the Iowa and Cedar Rivers, caused much of the damage in Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri. Several people had to be evacuated from the affected states, and 24 people were killed as a result of the floods. Crop damage was extensive throughout the flooded regions of the Midwest and up to 5 million acres of agricultural land across the region was flooded.

Iowa was affected worst, with 25,000 properties damaged and 400 destroyed. Of the 99 counties in Iowa, 83 were declared disaster areas by Governor Chet Culver on June25 - after 38,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes in 18 counties. Governor Culver said Iowa suffered by conservative estimates “billions of dollars in damages.” Officials in Iowa described the flooding as a 500-year event and said the damage to bridges, highways, roads, and railroad tracks was worse than 1993, when every county in the state was declared a disaster area.

According to reports, Iowa’s second largest city, Cedar Rapids, was one of the worst hit areas after the Cedar River burst its banks. Officials said more than 9 square miles (23.31 sq km) of homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed, and 25,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes. Damage was also reported in Iowa City and in the state capital, Des Moines, where a levee broke on the Des Moines River.

The winter and spring months, from December 2007 to May 2008, were the second wettest in the upper Mississippi River region since 1895, causing the ground to be heavily saturated before the heavy rainfall in late May and early June 2008. The rainwater could not penetrate the ground and thus flowed directly into the rivers and lakes. It was reported later that, in the Iowa town of Dorchester, the maximum 24-hour rainfall accumulation was roughly what one may experience once every 200 years. The NCDC said damage in Iowa was reported as being more than USD1.5 billion.

Seven counties were declared disaster areas in Wisconsin. According to reports, hundreds of residential and commercial properties were flooded. In Dane county alone, officials estimated that the floods caused approximately USD36 million in damage, including USD28 million in agricultural losses. Severe damage also occurred in Grant County when Lake Delton, a major tourist attraction, breached an embankment, nearly emptying and creating a new channel for the Wisconsin River.

Southern parts of Indiana were affected by the floods, with reports of widespread flooding in several counties. Governor Mitch Daniels said it was the “worst agriculture disaster in state history,” with one in every 10 acres of corn and soybeans lost at a cost of several hundred million dollars. In Columbus, Bartholomew County, hundreds of homes were damaged severely, and the Columbus regional hospital suffered major flood damage and was forced to close. Other counties in Indiana sustaining building damage included Brown, Daviess, Johnson, Morgan, Owen, and Vermillion, as rivers and streams breached levees and inundated the surrounding areas with flood water.

The floods hit southeastern Minnesota, and residents in the towns of Caledonia and Brownsville were evacuated on June 9 due to rising floodwaters. Crop damage affected parts of the state, and several counties were declared disaster areas. Flooding was also reported in Missouri and Illinois after the Mississippi River overtopped levees at several locations.

The floods caused widespread damage throughout the Midwest with an estimated USD10 billion of losses, of which USD500 million amounted to an insured loss, according the Munich Re.

Floods and Storms in Europe

Heavy rainfall from severe storms battered several parts of Europe in late May and early June, causing widespread damage and fatalities. The storms spread throughout Europe affecting many countries, including Germany, Belgium, Britain, Italy, and France.

Germany suffered some of the worst damage from the storm as rivers burst their banks in southern regions of the country. Three people were killed, and severe flooding was experienced in the Killertal Valley, where people were forced to seek safety on upper floors to escape the rising waters. Several more people were injured, including a train driver who was hurt as carriages crashed into fallen trees. Buildings were damaged by debris being by the flood water, power supplies were cut off in many areas, and there was travel disruption because of flight delays at Stuttgart airport.

Italy also suffered as a result of the storms. A state of emergency was declared in northern parts of the country because the heavy rain caused mudslides and flooding. Four people were killed in the mudslides that hit the town of Piedment. The storms disrupted several transportation networks - closing road tunnels linking Italy and France. The rail line, run by the French operator SNCF, linking Turin with Lyon, was also shut down because the risk of accidents increased as the rains fell. In Belgium, floods and mudflows affected various regions, and in Britain, flash flooding affected various southwestern regions.

Munich Re reported that the total loss amounted to USD1.3 billion, of which USD1.1 billion was insured. This made the storms the seventh most expensive natural catastrophe in 2008, and the second most expensive in Europe behind windstorm Emma.

Southern California Wildfires

Three wildfires fanned by hurricane-force Santa Ana winds forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes in parts of Southern California in November. Approximately 980 homes - ranging from multi-million dollar mansions to mobile homes - were destroyed by fires that stretched from Santa Barbara to southeast of Los Angeles. The wildfires raged from 13 November to 19 November, destroying more than 42,000 acres of land. States of emergency were declared in four counties. Close to 3,700 fire-fighters using helicopters, bulldozers, and engines were deployed to battle the flames.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Orange and Riverside counties in response to the Sayre Fire, the Triangle Complex Fire, and the Tea Fire. He subsequently asked the federal government to declare Southern California a federal disaster area. An insurance state of emergency was declared on November 17 by Commissioner Steve Poizner, allowing insurance companies to use out-of -state adjusters to assist with the spate of fire claims. The three fires hit areas to the north, northwest, and southeast of Los Angeles, destroying hundreds of houses and forcing more than 55,000 people to flee. Reports said 80 mph (130 kmph) Santa Ana winds fuelled the fires. No deaths were reported, but at least 20 people were injured.

The Sayre Fire broke out late on November 14 and forced 10,000 people to evacuate their homes. More than 11,000 acres of land was burnt in the Sylmar district of northern Los Angeles, and an estimated 615 buildings were destroyed, according to fire-fighters. Officials described the fire as the worst to hit Los Angeles in 50 years. The bulk of the property losses were located in the Oakridge Mobile Home Park in the Sylmar area, where flames destroyed 484 mobile homes, according to reports.

To the southeast of the Sayre Fire, the large Triangle Complex broke out on November 15 and quickly spread through a number of suburban communities - running up into the canyons of Chino Hills State Park and prompting as many as 40,000 evacuations. Most of the damage from the fire was reported in Orange County, particularly the suburbs of Corona, Yorba Linda, and Anaheim, where more than 150 homes were destroyed (113 in Yorba Linda, 31 in Anaheim, and 8 in Corona), according to officials. Another 104 residential properties and three commercial properties were damaged, fire officials said.

In Santa Barbara County, meanwhile, more than 200 homes were destroyed by the Tea Fire. The blaze started on November 13 and burned 2,000 acres of land. Officials in the county said 130 homes were destroyed in the city of Santa Barbara and another 80 in the wealthy community of Montecito, here houses prices reportedly average USD2.7 million. Reports also said the blaze raged through the Westmont College campus, burning several dormitories, faculty housing, and other buildings. Nearly 20,000 properties in the area lost power at the height of the blaze, and around 5,500 people were forced to evacuate their homes.

EQECAT said the fires caused an estimated property loss of up to USD500 million.

Previous installments in this series:

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Guy Carpenter’s Instrat® department provides CAT-i reports for major natural catastrophes worldwide. These reports cover catastrophes including worldwide tropical cyclones, earthquakes, major UK and European floods and any other natural event that is likely to incur a significant loss to the (re)insurance industry. Please email CAT.i@guycarp.com if you wish to be added to the free email distribution list.

Instrat also provides RISK-i reports for major technological or man-made events worldwide. These reports cover risks to property, transport and life including explosions, fires, crashes, engineering disasters and terrorist attacks that are likely to incur a significant loss to the (re)insurance industry. Please email RISK.i@guycarp.com if you wish to be added to the free email distribution list.

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