Ohio Wind Storm Damage Estimates Could Top $500 Million

September 29, 2008

Damage caused by the wind storm that ripped across Ohio Sept. 14 could hit $500 million or higher, making it one of the state’s costliest natural disasters.

The Ohio Insurance Institute says $500 million is a preliminary figure and it could go even higher when the group issues its official estimates next week, spokeswoman Mary Bonelli said Saturday.

In inflation-adjusted dollars, the storm could rival the cost of the 1974 tornado that devastated Xenia, Bonelli said.

Also Saturday, The Columbus Dispatch reported that American Electric Power is debating charging customers a fee to cover the cost of restoring their power.

The fee is an option although it’s too early to speculate about the details, Joseph Hamrock, president and chief executive officer of AEP-Ohio, told the paper.

Hamrock said the company was caught off-guard because weather forecasts called for winds of 40 to 45 mph, much less than the hurricane-force winds of 75 mph that hit.

“We’ve never seen anything on that scale,” Hamrock said.

Hampering the company’s response time, AEP had already had several hundred employees on their way to the Gulf Coast to help Hurricane Ike recovery efforts. Hamrock said that decision was based partly on the milder weather forecasts for Ohio.

The damage in Ohio happened when remnants of Hurricane Ike battered the state, knocking out electrical service for 2.6 million customers. Wind reaching 78 mph swept across the region and at least seven of the 56 deaths blamed on Hurricane Ike were in Ohio.

The hurricane-force winds, the power outages and the widespread nature of the storm all contributed to the costs, Bonelli said.

“It’s widespread across the state, it’s not regionalized,” she said.

By comparison, a hail storm that hit the greater Akron area in June 2007 led to losses totaling more than $105 million. And the state’s 2004 Christmas snow storm cost at least $85 million in insured losses.

The state says this year’s windstorm cost local governments at least $34.5 million.

Tamara McBride, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Emergency Management Agency, says that estimate is based on reports from only 33 counties.

That’s fewer than half of the 84 Ohio counties affected by the storm.

McBride says the state has requested $34.5 million in federal disaster relief to help areas recover part of the cost of cleaning up the storm.

Cuyahoga County alone estimated cleanup costs at $1.34 million so far.

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