Pacific Northwest Storms Cause 14 Deaths, More Than $500 Million in Losses

December 20, 2006

The winter storm that struck the Pacific Northwest last week is responsible for 14 deaths and is receiving the unfortunate recognition of the worst winter storm in 13 years, according to catastrophe risk modeling company AIR Worldwide Corp.’s recent estimate of damages. Noting damage from wind gusts of more than 90 miles per hour reported across Oregon and Washington, heavy precipitation that caused localized flash flooding in western Washington, and blizzard conditions in the eastern part of the state, AIR said the losses could total more than half a billion dollars.

“This was the worst wind storm to strike the Pacific Northwest since the 1993 Inauguration Day storm,” said Peter Dailey, director of atmospheric science for research and modeling at AIR Worldwide. “The wind speeds observed from last week’s storm were similar or a bit higher than those of the 1993 storm but were more widespread, extending south to Oregon and east to Montana, so total damage is likely to be higher.”

Damage to roofs, cladding and windows was common. More significant structural damage occurred as a result of downed trees and utility poles. Power was knocked out for more than 1.5 million homes and businesses, and many, including several thousand in northern Idaho and Montana, remained without electricity as late as Sunday. Wind gusted to 113 mph during the storm near Mount Rainier and to a record 69 mph (111 kph) at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

To date, 14 people have died because of the storm. And more than 100 have suffered carbon monoxide poisoning while trying to keep warm during the blackouts. Dozens of people have been treated for the poisoning in a hyperbaric chamber that re-oxygenates the blood at Virginia Mason Medical Center, officials said.

“We’re dealing with a carbon-monoxide epidemic in Western Washington,” said Dr. Neil B. Hampson at Virginia Mason’s Center for Hyperbaric Medicine. “This has the potential to be the worst case of carbon monoxide poisoning in the country.”

Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire declared a state of emergency for all 39 counties and the state National Guard was mobilized to get fuel and supplies to hard-hit areas.

Like most winter storms in the Pacific Northwest, damage from the December 14-15 storm was caused primarily by wind, AIR said. Heavy snow and the coldest temperatures were confined to the interior mountainous regions with lower property exposure. Using its U.S. Winter Storm model, loss estimates include insured losses from damage due to wind, precipitation, and cold temperatures, the modeling company said.

The Insurance Division of the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services noted that homeowner insurance policies generally cover property damage caused by windstorms.

“Damage resulting from a windstorm is usually covered by your homeowner policy, minus the deductible,” said Ron Fredrickson, manager of the Insurance Division’s Consumer Advocacy Unit. “This applies even if the damage is caused by your neighbor’s tree falling on your house.”

Fredrickson said the Insurance Division has received several calls from consumers who think their neighbor should be liable for damages caused by the neighbor’s tree. He said the neighbor may be liable if negligence could be proven. In most cases, there is no
negligence if a healthy tree is blown down by high winds.

Homeowner policies require the insured to protect their property, so people should take steps to prevent further damage, such as putting tarps over roofs until they can be repaired. Fredrickson also suggested that insurers may be able to recommend temrporary repair service providers.If the damage is serious enough that the house cannot be occupied, homeowner insurance may pay for additional expenses incurred to temporarily live elsewhere, he added.

Damage to a motor vehicle caused by falling objects is usually covered by an auto insurance policy, minus the deductible, if the owner had comprehensive coverage, according to Fredrickson.
He said there may be exceptions to these general rules, so advised policyholders to contact their insurance agent or company as soon as possible to report a loss and find out what’s covered.

Source: AIR Worldwide, Associated Press, DCBS

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