How is Hurricane Michael recovery affecting South Florida? Views differ

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Ron Hurtibise

Published November 16, 2018


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 another 101,241 and caused more than $26 billion in damage — most in history at the time, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The post-Andrew rebuilding effort 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 trekked 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, heartbreaking as it is, impacted 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.”

In this file photo from Oct. 19, 2018, workers begin making repairs in Mexico Beach, Fla., after Hurricane Michael slammed into the Panhandle.


So far, the number of insurance claims submitted as of Thursday from the 15 most heavily affected Panhandle counties — 117,565 — amount to a fraction of the 997,565 claims reported last year after Hurricane Irma, which was felt in all 67 Florida counties.

No assessment was available this week as to the number of buildings destroyed by Hurricane Michael. Counts are still underway 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 — leaving 67,374 unresolved. In hardest hit Bay County, where Panama City and Mexico Beach took the brunt of the storm’s fury, just 37.1 percent of 70,969 claims are closed.

So far, 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 following Michael, said Anthony DuBose, president of Coastal Community Insurance Agency in Panama City.

“The companies have been good about getting money to homeowners quickly,” he said. “It’s been better than I thought it would be a month and three days into it.”

Some insurance companies might have sent their most experienced adjusters to the destruction zone, causing delays in responses to everyday claims elsewhere, but that’s not unusual following a catastrophe, said Paul Handerhan, senior vice president of public policy for the Fort Lauderdale-based watchdog group Florida Association for Insurance Reform.

Also, Hurricane Michael response efforts shouldn’t have any effect on the amount of time it will take to resolve 82,449 post-Hurricane Irma claims — including 38,896 in the tricounty region — that remain open statewide, Handerhan said.

Michael Peltier, spokesman for state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp., said the company “brought on additional independent adjusters to handle Michael claims without having to deplete our non-catastrophe adjusting capabilities.” As a result, “we really didn’t see a falloff in our adjusting of claims in South Florida, including those from Hurricane Irma.”

As of Tuesday morning, Citizens had received 3,181 Michael claims, Peltier said. The company received 66,400 claims after Irma, Citizens data shows.

While Hurricane Michael hasn’t caused any shortage in availability of roofing materials in South Florida, limited availability of materials in the Panhandle has forced contractors to drive into Central Florida to find materials, said Chase, from the Roofing Contractors Association of South Florida.

Prices for roofing materials have been rising in recent months, he said, but mostly as a result of recent tariffs rather than storm-related demand.

Just about everyone in Michael’s path whose home was not destroyed will need some roof repairs, Panama City insurance agent DuBose said. Shingles are on back order, and people have no choice but to keep their temporary blue tarps atop their homes and wait, he said.

DuBose said the real construction work is just beginning, as home and business owners who were “first in line” to get their properties adjusted are just now getting their insurance checks and getting contractors out to their job sites. Laborers have been arriving to the area with their employers from South Florida, Orlando, Texas, North Carolina, as well as nearby communities such as Panhandle cities in Alabama, including Mobile and Birmingham. Local companies, meanwhile, are beefing up staffs or bringing on more subcontractors, he said.

“They’re trying to take care of what they can and seem to be doing a pretty good job so far,” he said.

Carol Bowen, chief lobbyist for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida trade association, said that post-Michael rebuilding needs will exacerbate a skilled worker shortage that “continues to be a massive problem for the industry.”

“Work has not slowed, demand continues to grow, and we are not seeing the influx of new entrants into our pre-apprenticeship, craft trainee and apprenticeship training programs necessary to meet current demands,” she said. New entries have increased, Bowen added, “but not at the pace necessary to truly assist the industry.”