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Hurricane Michael strains resources in Florida Panhandle

Ron Hurtibise, Sun Sentinel on

Published in Weather News

Devastation left by Hurricane Michael in Florida's Panhandle last month evoked comparisons to Hurricane Andrew in South Florida 26 years earlier, but business experts don't expect Michael's aftermath to be nearly as disruptive beyond the destruction zone.

Andrew's assault on South Florida in 1992 destroyed 25,524 homes, damaged 101,241 others and caused more than $26 billion in damage.

The post-Andrew rebuilding sparked a construction boom and skyrocketing demand for workers in a wide range of trades, including general construction, furniture-making, air-conditioning repair, plumbers, electricians, and roofers. Workers from across the nation went to South Florida, while prices increased for labor and building materials.

Insurance and construction industry officials in Florida say a repeat of the post-Andrew reconstruction market is unlikely because the destruction affected a more sparsely populated region.

"We haven't seen a huge impact on us," said John Chase, owner of Chase Roofing & Contracting in Fort Lauderdale and president of the Roofing Contractors Association of South Florida. "The Panhandle is a separate market, and it's covered by roofers in that area or Alabama."

The number of insurance claims submitted as of last Thursday from the 15 most heavily affected Panhandle counties -- 117,565 -- compares with 997,565 claims reported last year after Hurricane Irma, which was felt in all 67 Florida counties.

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No assessment was available this week as to the number of buildings destroyed by Hurricane Michael. Counts are haven't been finished in hardest-hit Bay County, where about 1,600 properties have been removed from the county's tax rolls, a spokesman for the Bay County Property Appraiser said Tuesday.

In the Panhandle, just 57.3 percent of the 117,565 insurance claims have been closed. In hardest hit Bay County, where Panama City and Mexico Beach took the brunt of the storm's fury, 37.1 percent of 70,969 claims are closed.

Adjusters have tallied an estimated $2.9 billion in insured losses from Hurricane Michael in Florida, but that number is expected to increase over time. Hurricane Irma's insured losses were estimated at $10.5 billion in mid-August.

With about 1,500 claims among his 5,500 clients, insurers have responded generally well after Michael, said Anthony DuBose, president of Coastal Community Insurance Agency in Panama City.

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