March 8th, 2010

Update 2: Windstorm Xynthia

Posted at 9:48 AM ET

march-1-windstormsmall2A powerful Atlantic storm named Xynthia battered western Europe with hurricane-force winds, surging seas and driving rain on February 27 and 28, causing widespread property damage and severely disrupting transport networks and infrastructure. The most severe damage was predominantly seen in western France, though disruption was reported across several countries in western Europe. Reports said at least 64 people were killed across France, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Belgium, and more than 1 million households lost power at the height of the storm. At least 53 of the fatalities occurred in France, which was the country worst-affected by the windstorm.

 According to AIR Worldwide, insured losses from Xynthia are expected to be between EUR1.5 billion and EUR3 billion (USD2 billion and USD4 billion) in France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. These losses do not include business interruption and additional living expenses for affected households, forestry losses, infrastructure losses and losses from non-modelled perils, including coastal surge and inland flooding. AIR said that flood and coastal storm surge losses are likely to be substantial. The modelling company added that while the size of individual claims is likely to be relatively low, the overall volume of claims is expected to be significant due to the size of the affected area.

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Hazard data illustrated in the CAT-i map was taken from i-aXs®, Guy Carpenter’s web-based risk management platform. i-aXs users can view impacted areas on any map as well as see how their portfolios were affected. Please contact your broker or Instrat® representative for assistance or go to www.i-axs.info for further information.

Risk Management Solutions (RMS), meanwhile, estimates that private market insured wind losses from Xynthia in France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands will be between EUR1 billion and EUR2 billion (USD1.4 billion and USD2.8 billion). This estimate includes damage to property, motor, forestry and the impact of any post-event loss amplification and direct business interruption. RMS added that that the majority of losses arising from the storm surge in France are likely to be covered under the CAT NAT scheme, meaning storm surge damage or storm surge related business interruption are not included in their estimate. Losses from Spain and Portugal are also excluded.

Windstorm Xynthia developed in the Atlantic Ocean off the Portuguese island of Madeira and hit the Spanish Canary Island archipelago late on February 26, with wind gusts of up to 128 kmph (80 mph) reported. Xynthia tracked northeast to crash against the western coasts of France and Spain overnight on February 27 and into the early hours of February 28. Reports said wind gusts reached 200 kmph (130 mph) on the summits of the Pyrenees and around 160 kmph (100 mph) along the Atlantic Coast, causing some roof damage to residential and commercial properties as the storm moved across Europe. The departments of Vendee and Charente-Maritime in western France were among the hardest-hit areas as wind gusts of around 150 kmph (93 mph) and an accompanying storm surge of up to 8 meters (26 feet) destroyed sea walls and flooded coastal towns. Xynthia also brought a band of severe weather that stretched from Portugal to the Netherlands and inland as far as Germany.

According to officials, around 500,000 people were affected by Xynthia in France as the storm uprooted trees, flooded homes and disrupted transportation. The French Insurance Federation, FFSA, said it expects insured losses in the country to reach around EUR1.2 billion (USD1.4 billion). Reports suggest severe wind damage across France was limited and the worst of the damage was caused by coastal storm surges. Around 10,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes on the Atlantic coast after storm surge flooding inundated their properties, reports said. Officials also said powerful winds caused isolated roof damage across parts of France. The strong winds also downed power lines and trees. As of March 4, the death toll in France had reached 53. Rivers overtopped their banks in Brittany, while high tides and enormous waves swamped other coastal communities. Reports estimated that more than a million French homes were without power during the storm, from the Brittany peninsula to the Massif Central. However, officials said power was restored to all but 4,000 homes within 92 hours.

Towns and cities within the four departments of Charente-Maritime, Deux-Sevres, Vendee and Vienne have been declared “Catastrophe Naturelle” as the severe weather generated a storm surge that flooded coastal communities (see map below). In a statement issued by the FFSA, all flood damage in the departments where a state of Catastrophe Naturelle has been declared will be covered by the state funded CAT NAT scheme. Damage in Charente-Maritime alone has been estimated at EUR135 million, reports said. Single storey houses were submerged here and commercial properties also reportedly sustained some damage. In the department of Vendee, 28 people were reported to have been killed in the town of L’Aiguillon sur Mer as sea walls broke and ocean waters reached the roofs of some homes. Flood defences also failed in the town of La Faute sur Mer, where another 25 people died. According to reports, around 200 square miles (520 square kilometers) of land has been flooded by salt water. French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said that flood prevention dykes would be strengthened in the aftermath of the storm.

Reports said more than 9,000 French firefighters and emergency workers backed by helicopters were deployed on 1 March to reach residents stranded on rooftops, mostly in Vendee and Charente-Maritime. Hundreds of families in coastal regions were forced to seek refuge in shelters that were set up in schools and public buildings. Regional officials said that around 30 people were admitted to hospital. Elsewhere in France, farms and fisheries were badly affected, prompting the Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Marie to promise compensation from a national disaster relief fund. The Commerce Minister Herve Novelli also said that small businesses would receive EUR10,000 in aid to help cover the costs of repairs in storm-hit areas.

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Hazard data illustrated in the CAT-i map was taken from i-aXs®, Guy Carpenter’s web-based risk management platform. i-aXs users can view impacted areas on any map as well as see how their portfolios were affected. Please contact your broker or Instrat® representative for assistance or go to www.i-axs.info for further information.

There were significant transport delays on Sunday February 28, with Air France canceling more than 100 flights and more than half of those departing from Paris suffering major delays, according to Aeroports de Paris. An air traffic spokesperson said that flight schedules began to return to normal at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport on Sunday evening. TGV train services were also severely delayed due to branches and other debris obstructing the rail network.

In Paris, wind gusts of 175 kmph (110 mph) were recorded at the top of the Eiffel Tower, falling short of the record of 200 kmph (124 mph) winds that were registered in December 1999. No major damage was reported in Paris although centuries-old trees were uprooted in the gardens of the Versailles Palace. Shortly after 17:00 on February 28, Meteo France reported that the storm system had passed into Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, with strong winds also being reported in Switzerland.

In Germany, six people were killed by falling trees and there were reports of some property damage across the country, including roof damage. AIR Worldwide said building damage was reported in Heidelberg, Rheinland-Pfalz, Dusseldorf, Cologne, and Baden-Wurttemberg. Some households lost power, but most were reconnected within 12 hours. Air and rail transport was also badly disrupted. A spokesman at Frankfurt Airport said at least 200 flights had been cancelled due to high winds and the central train station was also closed after wind gusts reached around 130 kmph (80 mph). Elsewhere, fallen trees closed many stretches of train routes in the states of Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia and Saarland.

In Spain, three people died in separate incidents in Burgos and Galicia. Wind gusts of up to 160 kmph (100 mph) swept through northwestern Spain on February 27, closing rail services and causing widespread disruption. Although major property damage was reported to be limited in Spain, more than 150,000 homes lost power at the height of the storm. Portugal was also hit by powerful winds and heavy rain as a falling tree killed a person in Paredes and the northern cities of Porto and Vile Nova de Gaia issued river flood warnings. Portugal’s fire service reportedly responded to some 4,000 storm-related incidents. In Belgium, meanwhile, a man was killed by flying debris and the capital of Brussels was littered with fallen signs and trees. Reports suggest the worst of the damage in Belgium was centred in southern regions. Elsewhere, wind gusts of up to 160 kmph (100 mph) were recorded in Switzerland, some property damage was reported in Luxembourg, heavy rain triggered localised flooding in southern England and torrential rain fell in Madeira, exacerbating recent flooding and landslides on the island.

According to RMS, Xynthia is not expected to be as severe as Windstorm Lothar. Lothar hit France in 1999, with winds of 180 kmph (111 mph) recorded in Paris compared to 108 kmph (67 mph) for Xynthia. Moreover, around 2 million households lost power after Lothar hit compared with half that amount for Xynthia. Reports said the intensity of Xynthia is thought to have been similar Windstorm Klaus, which was the most costly natural disaster of 2009 after triggering insured losses of around USD3.5 billion.

Sources: Agence France Presse, Associated Press, BBC News, Federation Francaise des Societes d’Assurances, The Independent, Insurance Journal, The New York Times, Reuters News, La Tribune, Platts Commodity News, Xinhua News Agency

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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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