AIR Worldwide estimates that total property damage (including both insured and uninsured losses) for Cuba is expected to range from USD 1-2 billion. Estimating insured losses in Cuba is challenging due to uncertainties in take up rates and other factors, but Hurricane Sandy is a significant event for eastern Cuba. For Jamaica, insured losses from Hurricane Sandy are expected to be less than USD 300 million. For the Bahamas, insured losses are expected to be less than USD 100 million. Note that these estimates include wind and precipitation-induced flood damage to onshore residential, commercial, and industrial properties (and their contents), automobiles, and business interruption losses.
Current Conditions and Forecast Track
With maximum sustained winds of 80 mph (130 km/h), Hurricane Sandy is a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, somewhat weakened since yesterday’s landfall in Cuba due to high wind shear. As of the National Hurricane Center (NHC) Advisory at 11 a.m. (EDT), Hurricane Sandy is located at 26.7°N 76.9°W, 25 miles north-northeast of Great Abaco Island. Moving northwest with a forward speed of 6 mph (9 km/h), Sandy is anticipated to continue parallel to the east coast of the United States for the next two days. The National Hurricane Center has issued a tropical storm warning for Florida’s east coast, and a tropical storm watch for coastal regions from Savannah, Georgia to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. With a cloud field stretching over 1600 miles, Sandy is a very large storm that may potentially inflict hurricane force winds on the Mid-Atlantic or Northeastern states, possibly leading to serious coastal erosion and flooding, between Sunday (October 28) and Wednesday (October 31). In addition, Sandy is now forecast to make landfall along the east coast somewhere between Virginia and New England, with the center of the NHC cone showing landfall in Delaware early Tuesday morning.
Figure 1: Track Map for Hurricane Sandy(Source: NOAA).
Reported Damage in the Caribbean
Cuba suffered the worst effects of Hurricane Sandy in the Caribbean, with serious damage reported in eastern Santiago and Guantanamo provinces. The historic city of Santiago de Cuba, located 470 miles southeast of Havana, bore the brunt of Sandy’s heavy rains and 110-mph winds (wind gusts exceeded 150 mph at high elevations). In Cuba, eleven people were killed by the storm. Fallen tree limbs and debris are strewn throughout the city’s streets. Local television reports state that many of the city’s 300,000 homes were heavily damaged, with some houses experiencing total or partial collapse. Sandy’s high winds also tore the roofs from homes, uprooted trees, and downed power lines. There are concerns that the storm’s heavy rains may lead to contamination of wells in regions such as the Granma province. Cuban authorities have reported that Hurricane Sandy was the island’s deadliest storm since Hurricane Dennis (2005).
Local reports suggest that much of Santiago’s housing stock was in poor condition before the storm, increasing the vulnerability of these homes to Sandy’s soaking rains and strong winds. However, such older and poorly maintained structures that are notably vulnerable to severe structure damage are less likely to be insured.
Hurricane Sandy has also caused damaging floods in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, increasing the threat of flash floods and mudslides, particularly in regions of high elevation. Rising floodwaters have forced 12,581 from their homes in the Dominican Republic, and made a total of 104 towns inaccessible by road. Reports state that bridges have collapsed and 1,149 homes have been damaged in that country as well. In Haiti, widespread flooding and nine deaths have been inflicted by Hurricane Sandy. Collapsed bridges in several southern cities have also been reported.
Damage reports from the Bahamas, though still sparse, state that Hurricane Sandy has caused power outages and flooded roads in the Bahamas, as well as minor building damage in some locations. In general, much less damage is anticipated in the Bahamas for three reasons. First, high wind shear caused Sandy to weaken by the time it approached the Bahamas, with maximum wind speeds of 105 mph in the southern Bahamas, diminishing to 80 mph in the more populous northern Bahamas. Second, Sandy is moving east of the most populated islands, placing them on the storm’s weaker left side. Third, residences in the Bahamas are typically single-story buildings constructed of concrete blocks or poured concrete according to stringent and well-enforced building codes. All of these factors will likely limit structure damage to buildings in the Bahamas from Hurricane Sandy.
Expected Impact on the United States
As Sandy moves along the east coast of the United States, it is expected to cause high winds and heavy rains in coastal regions stretching from Florida to North Carolina. While the storm may weaken slightly as it moves over colder waters over the next few days, prior to landfall Sandy is expected to intensify slightly as it gains energy from a cold air mass moving over the eastern U.S. Therefore, Sandy will likely still exhibit hurricane-force winds when it strikes the eastern United States.
According to the NHC, Sandy is forecast to make landfall along the U.S. east coast at a location between Virginia and New England, with the official forecast now predicting landfall in Delaware on early Tuesday morning as a Category 1 hurricane. However, it should be noted there is still considerable uncertainty in the numerical models and the forecast could change soon.
In addition, it is important to note that Sandy’s large size – its cloud field stretches for 1600 miles – means that it will inflict high winds and heavy rains over distances well removed from the specific landfall location. Saturated soils from the heavy rainfall, coupled with the fact that many trees still have leaves, could result in widespread tree damage and power outages across wide areas. The large size of Sandy’s wind field also suggests that the storm surge it inflicts will be significant.