AIR Analyzes France/Spain Storm – ‘Worst in Ten Years’

January 27, 2009

Catastrophe risk modeling firm AIR Worldwide has begun analyzing the damages wrought by winter storm Klaus, which, AIR notes, “swept out of the Atlantic and across southern France and northern Spain Saturday, tearing off roofs, toppling electrical and telephone towers, and downing hundreds of thousands of trees (See also IJ web site – http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/international/2009/01/26/97255.htm].

AIR also noted that in the storm’s aftermath “rivers had burst their banks across the southwest of France, leaving many fields and roads submerged and impassable. Weather officials warn that floods are likely throughout the area and forecast new storms for the region. Klaus is the worst winter storm to hit France since Martin, which followed a similar, but more northerly path in late December of 1999.”

Dr. Peter Dailey, director of atmospheric science at AIR Worldwide explained: “Winter storm Klaus had a central pressure of 967 millibars on Saturday morning, January 24. As it moved across southern France, the storm’s cold front extended southward and raked across the Pyrenées and northern Spain. According to METAR observations, three-second gusts reached up to 139 km/h [83.4 mph] in Biarritz, France, and up to 111 km/h [66.6 mph] in Barcelona, Spain, before the storm entered the Mediterranean and moved toward Corsica.”

In an earlier bulletin AIR noted that “a 184 km/h [110mph] gust was recorded in the eastern Pyrenées near Perpignan. According to Météo France, these are some of the strongest winds since records began.”

AIR also described the situation across northern Spain on Saturday, as “thousands of residents had been evacuated from their homes because of wildfires that had been intensified by the storm’s high winds—and also by new fires caused by knocked-down power lines. On Monday the wildfires were brought under control.

“In France, nearly 1,000 soldiers have been sent to the Bordeaux region alone to help with rescue and clean-up efforts. At the height of the storm, some 1.7 million households were without power, and by mid-day Monday more than half a million remained without power. Although more than 3,000 French utility workers—assisted by additional teams from England, Germany, and Portugal—are working to restore power, the chairman of France’s energy group, EDF, indicated that it may take a week before service is fully restored.”

Spanish troops were also called into action over the weekend to help with clean-up operations and restoring electricity. AIR said: “The bullet-train link between Madrid and Barcelona was restored on Sunday and service into France is expected on Monday.

“The main Bordeaux-Paris rail line was running on Monday, but many routes remain down and the state rail company, SNCF, said it had 1,000 workers repairing overhead power cables and removing trees from rail lines.

Also, 3,000 technicians are working to restore telephone service to 200,000 fixed-line and mobile customers throughout the area. The regions of Gironde and Landes in southern France, one of Europe’s largest forest areas, were hard hit by the strong winds. Forestry officials say that more than half the trees in the area, where thousands of people rely on the timber industry for a living, appear to have been toppled.”

AIR added that it has “sent two survey teams to conduct on-the-ground observations and will make additional information available as warranted.”

Source: AIR Worldwide: www.air-worldwide.com
IJ Ed. Note: So far neither the French government nor the Fédération française des sociétés d’assurances (FFSA – the insurance industry’s trade group) has issued any loss figures from the storm. Although the most recent statement from the FSA indicates that the losses are expected to be up to €3 billion ($3.87 billion). France has a well-developed insurance and reinsurance system to cover property damage, but coverage for business interruption is less well entrenched, and stricken industries are more likely to turn to the national and regional government for help. French government officials have called on the insurance industry to speed up claims processing, and to extend the time to file claims. The FFSA has agreed, and has said that as many as 8000 claims agents are currently working in the stricken areas.

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