Hurricanes Harvey and Irma made landfall in the U.S. a little over two weeks apart, causing significant flooding and damage throughout communities in Texas, Florida, Georgia and even parts of South Carolina. Both storms reached Category 4, with Irma growing to a massive Category 5 as it tore across the Caribbean.
According to early estimates released Wednesday by the head of the National Flood Insurance Program, Hurricane Harvey losses could top $11 billion. The figure would make Harvey the second costliest storm in the history of the federal insurance program, behind Hurricane Katrina. By Wednesday, estimates for Irma’s destruction had yet to be released, though FEMA’s deputy associate administrator for insurance and mitigation predicted the damage could rivals levels seen from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 — a $9 billion figure.
By Wednesday morning the confirmed death toll from Irma stood at 57, according to the Associated Press, while Harvey’s victims numbered at least 70.
Dr. Stephen Flynn, Founding Director of the Global Resilience Institute, spoke with The Christian Science Monitor on Wednesday about the factors making these storms so costly, disruptive — and catastrophic.
“What is different about these disasters is not that they are bigger and more destructive – we’ve had big disruptive disasters over human history – but the fact that what makes a disaster catastrophic is the contact with the built environment,” Dr. Flynn explained.
He added, “That built environment is now more sprawling and more interconnected than ever, because that is how we get efficiencies out of it. But … increasingly, we’re all experiencing some of the cost and disruption that goes with these events.”