AIR Analyzes Agatha; Despite Damages Insured Losses Not ‘Significant’

June 2, 2010

Catastrophe risk modeling firm AIR Worldwide described the early tropical storm Agatha as “short-lived, but deadly,” as it “wreaked havoc in Central America over the weekend. Agatha benefitted “from low wind shear and sea surface temperatures of 30°C,” said AIR, allowing it to briefly reach tropical storm strength.

“Before making landfall near Guatemala’s border with Mexico, Agatha managed to achieve wind speeds of 45 mph—a minimal tropical storm—before being broken up by Guatemala’s mountainous Pacific coast. By early Sunday, it was once again a tropical depression.”

However, AIR also pointed out that “despite unimpressive wind speeds, the storm brought more than a foot of rain to Guatemala and parts of Honduras and El Salvador, triggering flooding and mudslides that washed away roads, bridges, homes and businesses.”

Dr. Tim Doggett, principal scientist at AIR Worldwide, explained: “The region’s coastal mountain ranges enhance precipitation. The warm, moist air is forced to rise and as the rising air cools and water vapor condenses, additional clouds form and boost precipitation.” In an unfortunate coincidence, the storm coincided with the eruption last week of the Pacaya volcano, southwest of Guatemala’s capital. The mix of mud and ash will undoubtedly make clean-up efforts more challenging.

AIR described construction standards in Guatemala and El Salvador as “dominated by unreinforced masonry (URM) construction.” Dr. Doggett added that “while wind speeds of 45 mph would not be expected to cause significant damage to URM buildings, it is quite vulnerable to flooding. Traditional adobe construction—another highly vulnerable construction type—is also fairly common, particularly in more rural areas, which is where the bulk of the damage occurred.”

AIR’s analysis concluded that, “because much of what was damaged in this storm is unlikely to have been insured, AIR does not expect significant insured losses.”

Officials in Guatemala are reporting that more than 3,500 homes were damaged. Meanwhile, a sinkhole opened up in Guatemala City, swallowing a three-story building. It has been suggested, though not confirmed, that Agatha’s heavy rainfall triggered the event.

At least two dams were reported to be under stress over the weekend, though the immediate danger seems now to have diminished. Yesterday, the presidents of both El Salvador and Honduras declared states of emergency.

Source: AIR Worldwide

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