BY ALEXANDER SOULE AND PATRICK GALLAGHER
Economists projected the damage wrought by Tropical Storm Sandy would result in total losses of between $30 billion and $50 billion as Connecticut utilities, transit providers and government agencies labored to restore order and restart business.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Oct. 30 approved a federal disaster declaration for the state’s four coastal counties, with subsequent disaster declarations sought for the state’s remaining four counties.
Speaking in Bridgeport Nov. 1, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said the federal government understands “the urgency of the situation.”
“We need to begin helping people get back in their homes,” Napolitano said. “We need to be helping communities get restored. We need to make sure the infrastructure of this state is made whole … We’re going to continue to work this storm, we’re going to continue to bring the resources that we can and we’ll work very closely with the governor.”
As of the afternoon of Nov. 2, there were 163,000 Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P) customers still without power and 65,000 United Illuminating (UI) Co. customers still in the dark.
Both companies have said most customers should have their power restored by late Monday, Nov. 5, or Tuesday, Nov. 6. At a Nov. 1 press conference held in Hartford, however, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said that is not good enough.
“I have communicated to both companies in blunt fashion that I want them to do better than that,” Malloy said. “We intend on behalf of our customers and our citizens to hold them accountable for their performance.”
Malloy: Conn. dodged ‘absolute devastation’
While touring portions of Fairfield County that absorbed the bulk of the storm’s wrath earlier in the week, said the state’s first responders and utilities were better prepared than they were a year ago when Hurricane Irene swept through the Northeast, adding that Sandy’s impact on Connecticut’s coastal regions was somewhat lessened due to a late change in the storm’s trajectory as it made landfall in New Jersey.
“FEMA is far more responsive than they have been in any event that I’ve been involved with them,” Malloy said while stopping in Stamford’s Shippan Point Oct. 30, along with U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Joe Lieberman. “I think the pressure on the utilities – they had more assets in place (Tuesday) morning than they had on day five on either of these instances last year. Hindsight will be 20/20 … but so far, so good.”
The FEMA disaster declarations initiated multiple programs, including short-term rental payments for temporary housing, grants for select home repairs, grants to replace personal property, unemployment payments for workers who temporarily lost jobs because of the disaster, low-interest loans to cover residential losses not fully compensated by insurance, and up to $2 million for small businesses and most private nonprofit organizations suffering from disaster-related cash flow problems.
Malloy also signed four executive orders last week designed to assist with recovery efforts.
CL&P and parent company Northeast Utilities Service Co. said on the eve of Sandy’s landfall that it had supplemented its workforce with 1,000 line workers, 600 tree workers and 500 service electricians from across the country.
UI, a subsidiary of UIL Holdings Corp., said it had expanded its workforce to more than 600 full-time equivalents.
The damage could have been worse, Malloy said.
Had the storm surge been as high as it was projected the night of the storm, “absolute devastation” would have ensued, Malloy said. “Because it came ashore in New Jersey a little earlier (than expected), it may have taken some of the bite out of our highest tide situation.”
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority began providing limited service Oct. 31 on both the Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Railroad networks as it worked to regain power and clear debris from the Hudson and New Haven lines.
By Nov. 2, service had been restored between New Haven and Grand Central Terminal.
Economic forecasting firm IHS Global Insight projected region-wide losses of $30 billion to $50 billion as a result of the storm, citing the idling of 70 percent of the East Coast’s oil refineries, disruptions to business activity and estimates that peg total infrastructure damages at $20 billion, with just half of that insured.
For the 15-state region impacted by the storm, losses of $30 to $50 billion would represent 1 to 1.7 percent of the entire region’s $3 trillion annual economic output or gross regional product, according to IHS Global Insight.
In comparison, the damages from Tropical Storm Irene represented about 0.5 percent of the gross regional product for the 13 states that were affected, while losses from Hurricane Katrina represented a whopping 9.6 percent of the gross regional product for the area comprising Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Property and casualty insurers are well positioned to absorb the losses according to A.M. Best Co., after a relatively quiet 2012 on the storm front prior to Sandy’s arrival.
A.M. Best, which has its main office in Oldwick, N.J., said the biggest impacts from Sandy on most primary insurers are likely to be wind and downed tree damage to roofs and cars, as well as business interruption losses from prolonged electrical outages.
Insured losses stemming from Sandy are estimated to fall between $5 billion and $10 billion, according to catastrophe risk modeling firm Eqecat.
Editor’s note: This article was updated to reflect additional developments Nov. 2 at 3 p.m.