Soon after hurricane Irma struck, Willis Re sent a team to survey the property damage in southwest Florida. After four days, and 900 miles, the team completed its assessment, which can be found here. Among the key lessons learned was that risk mitigation efforts proved effective.
- Newer buildings, constructed to stronger codes put in place after 2004’s Hurricane Charley, were more resilient than older ones.
- Risk mitigation measures such as storm shutters proved effective protection against Irma’s winds. In fact, almost all residential and commercial buildings fitted with strong storm shutters showed little visible damage to windows and glazed sliding doors. Many unprotected windows were shattered.
- Metal roofs performed better than those covered with tiles or shingles.
- Gas station canopies supported by a single row of columns were extremely vulnerable to damage, whereas those supported by a double row of columns were less likely to be blown over. Canopies that didn’t collapse may have suffered damage to their soffits, fascia, framing or foundations.
Additional observations from the field:
- The greatest damage to property was in Marco Island, Cudjoe Key and Marathon Key.
- Direct wind damage to insured properties ranged from minor (0% to 10% damage) to significant (more than 20%).
- Damage to structures, including mobile homes, was relatively minor, and rarely structural. Most was limited to loss of shingles and siding damage. However, we saw major damage to some add-on structures such as carports, screen enclosures and utility sheds. In most cases, damaged add-on structures did not inflict additional damage to the main structure. When there was damage, it was minor.
- Damage to boats and marina warehouses along the coast was due mainly to storm surge and flooding, and while some vessels were capsized or washed ashore by the surge, those in warehouses were primarily unscathed. We saw little damage to the warehouses themselves, except to roofs.
- Despite many effective mitigation strategies, we expect insurance claims will be high for buildings that sustained minor damage since roofs will likely be replaced to avoid the cosmetic effects of mismatched tiles.
Floridians are no stranger to hurricanes, and the protective measures taken by the state and property owners were key to minimizing damage. Coincidentally, the areas exposed to Irma’s winds intersected with areas hit by Hurricane Charley, so if property owners hadn’t taken the right precautions, damage could have been much worse.