Windstorm Xynthia Leaves a Trail of Destruction; RMS Analysis

March 2, 2010

Windstorm Xynthia, which swept across Western Europe on Saturday and Sunday, [See IJ web site –] left a lot of damage in its wake. The storm was responsible for 59 deaths in France, with a number of people still missing. It caused widespread power outages and significant structural damages

However, as Neena Saith, senior catastrophe response manager at Risk Management Solutions, pointed out, “based on preliminary observations it is by no means as severe as Windstorm Lothar in 1999. Around 1 million homes have lost power, which is about half of what we saw during Lothar, and there’s already promising signs that power is being restored.”

Total insured losses from Lothar and Martin in France amounted to around €6.5 billion [$8.8 billion] at the time. Peak gusts during Lothar were as high as 50 meters per second (180 km/hr) in Paris compared to about 30 meters per second during Xynthia.

As RMS notes, a significant amount of the damage and loss of life in France was caused by inadequate flood defenses, which either collapsed entirely, or failed to prevent a combination of strong winds and a high tidal surge from overtopping them. As a result water rapidly inundated homes in a number of coastal communities, particularly in the Vendee region and further south in the Charente Maritime, including the port of La Rochelle.

Many single story houses are reported to be covered with water up to the roof in the three main communes affected and the flood water depth reaches about 1.2 meters (just under 4 feet) in many other areas. “Damage to commercial properties, including hotels and restaurants, has also been reported. Over 100 homes are still being searched for missing people,” said RMS.

“The strong winds also downed trees and caused roof top damage across a wide swath of France, extending in a northeast trajectory from La Rochelle in the coast to Metz and the Strasbourg region and into Germany.

“High winds causing tree falls, widespread debris and disruption are reported from the Parisian suburbs and Brittany to pockets of damage to high-elevation ski resorts in the Haute-Garonne and Hautes-Pyrenees, which could force them to close for the rest of the season. In Paris there are no reports of major damage, however there is evidence of minor damage to some warehouses and also indirect damage from windblown missiles.

“Three people have been killed in western Germany as a consequence of the storm; all are believed to have lost their lives from falling trees. The main impacted areas are Rheinland-Pfalz, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Hessen und Baden-Württemberg. Fallen trees, destroyed cars, and broken street signs and other debris characterize the damage region. There has also been significant transport disruption; train lines and highways were closed to avoid accidents from falling trees.

“No major property damage is reported in Spain; however it is clear that there have been some trees downed and sporadic reports of damage to homes.

“In Portugal there are reports of downed trees which blocked roads and rail lines. It is reported that the country’s fire service responded to in excess of 4,000 incidents related to storm damage. Portugal’s Civil Protection Service has confirmed that one person has been killed as a result of a fallen tree. In Madeira further rainfall was brought to the island which has already been subject to flash flooding and mudslides during the last week.”

RMS also noted that “windstorm Xynthia has taken a more northeasterly track than either Lothar or Martin, causing damage in northern Germany. Much of Germany was impacted by Windstorm Kyrill in January 2007 which bought similar wind speeds to those observed for Xynthia, with peak gusts of 35m/s and 32m/s recorded in Braunschweig & Hamburg respectively, however Kyrill affected a much larger portion of Germany. Total insured losses in Germany at the time of the event were €2.5 billion [$3.38 billion], with Kyrill causing a further estimated €1.4 billion {1.9 billion] across Europe.

Source: news reports and Risk Management Solutions –

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