Michael Will Cost Insurers Billions, But Won't Overwhelm Industry, Analysts Say The storm's costs to insurers will be substantial, Fitch Ratings says, but companies should be able to absorb the losses. Still, communities will be coping with the financial fallout for a long time.

Michael Will Cost Insurers Billions, But Won't Overwhelm Industry, Analysts Say

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Next we turn to the effort to total the damage from Hurricane Michael, which hit Florida's Panhandle last week. NPR's Camila Domonoske reports.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Since Hurricane Michael hit, impassable roads and non-functional phones have made life difficult for residents and rescue teams - and for insurance adjusters.

CARL NEMETH: Lot of power lines down, trees down just on the outskirts. We're probably still 40 miles from where the eye came across.

DOMONOSKE: Carl Nemeth works in the fraud division of Tower Hill, a Florida homeowners' insurance company. Over the weekend, he caught a cellphone signal near Panama City. There were still places it wasn't safe for his team to travel.

NEMETH: But in situations like that, we're relying on aerial imagery and things like that. So if we can't get to the site or get a look at it, at least we can get a decent picture of what's going on.

DOMONOSKE: And it wasn't just buildings that were devastated by the storm.

CHRIS CHANDLER: A lot of areas have lost a generation of timber. Poultry farms are hit pretty hard. And the cotton industry is devastated.

DOMONOSKE: Chris Chandler is an adjuster with Alfa Insurance in Alabama. He's been working in Houston County.

CHANDLER: Cotton was ready to be picked last week and 60, 70, 100 mile-per-hour winds just blows it away. And that's people's source of income. That's their livelihood.

DOMONOSKE: Early estimates suggest this hurricane caused billions of dollars of damage. Fitch Ratings says that insurance companies will have substantial costs. But Fitch also says the industry is, quote, "well-positioned to absorb the losses." And, yeah, that's what insurance companies are supposed to do. But in Florida in particular, every big storm raises worries that the industry will just fail.

After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, many companies went bankrupt or backed away from covering coastal areas, so it's good news that analysts say that's not likely to happen now. But communities are still facing a long, difficult recovery. Chandler in Alabama says the damage is upsetting.

CHANDLER: You wish that you could just snap your finger and make everything back to normal. Obviously that's not going to happen. And, you know, you're talking to people that houses - are destroyed, all their belongings, their children's pictures - no amount of money is going to get an image back of your parents that are passed away, of your child's first birthday.

DOMONOSKE: While some things are lost forever, he says, communities are already working together to start to rebuild. Camila Domonoske, NPR News.

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