Hurricane Irene update: Tallying up the cost of a major storm

It may not cost as much as hurricane Katina, but hurricane Irene is likely to cause billions of dollars in damages once she finishes her whirlwind trek up the East Coast.

Fire personnel secure the area around a massive tree that came down as Hurricane Irene moved through Hampton, Virginia, on Saturday.

Hurricane Irene has miles to go before it heads back out to sea, and it’s yet to reach the major metropolitan areas it’s aimed at.

But already, insurers and government officials are begin to tally the cost.

So far, five people have been killed in storm-related incidents, including an 11-year old boy in Newport News, Va. and a surfer in Virginia Beach.

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), paid out more than $11 billion in claims after Hurricane Katrina via the National Flood Insurance Program. It’s too soon to compare Irene to Katrina, or to such earlier hurricanes as Fran in 1996 or Floyd in 1999. In all, Katrina caused $133.8 billion in damages and more than 1,800 fatalities.

But catastrophe modelers say Irene caused up to $1.1 billion in insured losses just in the Caribbean, and depending on the storm's track in New England “some have said losses north of $10 billion are possible,” Reuters reports.

Kinetic Analysis Corporation estimates that Irene may cause $13.9 billion worth of damage, with another $6 billion or so lost because of idle workers and unshipped goods stranded by the storm, the International Business Times reported Saturday.

"We're looking at a multibillion-dollar event; that's almost certain," Bob Hartwig, president of the trade association Insurance Information Institute, told NPR. "We're not looking at a hurricane that is as strong as a Katrina or a Hurricane Ike, but we are looking at a storm that will move over an area that has much greater population than an area like New Orleans or South Texas."

That wider area is expected to cause major storm surges and flooding – possibly made more powerful by higher tides caused by the gravitational pull of Sunday’s new moon.

“Between damage to infrastructure (buildings, boardwalks, mass transit systems, etc.), storm surge flood damage, fresh water flood damage (from heavy rain), beach erosion, and vehicular damage, it's possible that Hurricane Irene will be another billion-dollar-plus US weather disaster,” meteorologist Paul Yeager writes on Huffington Post.

Some have downplayed Irene since it was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane before it hit the North Carolina coast and began its northward trek. That’s been a source of frustration to officials urging residents to stay inside until the storm has truly passed.

“She may be a 1, but she’s a mean 1,” says North Carolina Governor Bev Purdue.

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