Ivan Sets His Sights on Gulf Coast; Residents from Florida to Louisiana Get Suitcases Packed

By | September 14, 2004

Having left a swath of destruction from Grenada to Cuba, Hurricane Ivan turned its sights on the Florida Panhandle west to New Orleans on Tuesday, forcing thousands to pack what they could and head for higher ground. More than 1 million people were encouraged to evacaute New Orleans, which is prone to flooding as a result of its location.

Insurance claims adjusters, already working extra hours in Florida due to Hurricanes Charley and Frances, are likely to concentrate on the Gulf Coast areas of Florida over to Louisiana in the next week as Ivan appears headed on a collision course with the region.

A hurricane watch was set for a more than 400-mile-long path from St. Marks in the Florida Panhandle, just south of Tallahassee, to New Orleans and Morgan City, La. Residents and tourists in coastal areas along the way were urged to evacuate, and schools in several states were ordered closed.

Ivan was a Category 4 hurricane at late morning with top sustained wind at 140 mph, dropping from 160 mph — Category 5 strength — earlier.

Many eyes were on New Orleans on Tuesday as the city and its suburb of Jefferson Parish encouraged the population of approximately 1 million people to take precautions. Suburban St. Charles Parish wasted little time in ordering its nearly 50,000 residents to leave.

New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin was closing City Hall today at noon (local time) through Thursday. All City services will be suspended except New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) and New Orleans Fire Department (NOFD). Non-Essential City personnel were asked to return home to make their storm preparations.

“This is a very dangerous storm. We will continue to monitor conditions and will doing everything we can to keep the City and its citizens safe,” Mayor Nagin said.

Earlier, the Mayor declared a state of emergency in Orleans at a press conference co-hosted by Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard and other New Orleans regional elected officials. In addition, Mayor Nagin announced a recommended evacuation for all Orleans Parish residents.

As a result of its size and slow movement, Ivan posed potential problems for a number of states after terrorizing folks in several countries. Forecasters warned that Ivan still could gain strength before hitting shore. They also noted it could slow down or stall over the Appalachians this weekend, raising the potential for serious flooding.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, Ivan was centered about 435 miles south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and about 470 miles south of Panama City Beach. It was slowly making its way along north-northwest at 8 mph.

President Bush, meantime, has asked Congress for an additional $3.1 billion to help Florida and other states recover from their recent hits with Charley and Frances. That comes on top of $2 billion approved last week but does not include Ivan.

Julie Pulliam, Southeast Region public affairs spokesperson for the American Insurance Association (AIA), said despite the recent string of hurricanes to hit the country, the industry is able to handle the financial challenges.

“As for the industry in general, we can say so far, so good. The industry has come through Charley and Frances in good financial shape,” Pulliam commented. “We feel that is really because of the reforms that were put in place in Florida after Hurricane Andrew (1992).

“There have been stronger building codes, but also helping have been the programs like the Florida Hurricane CAT Fund, also Citizens, which is what the residual market is called in Florida. That has been reorganized since Andrew and provides a valid option for those in high-risk areas who cannot get coverage in the private market. Also, hurricane deductibles, which we are hearing a lot about now that require policyholders to pay a certain percentage deductible for windstorm damage. All of those programs have helped build capacity in the Florida market and allowed carriers to manage their exposure better in Florida. Because of all those things, so far, so good.”

According to Pulliam, folks not just in Florida, but to the west in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana are paying close attention to Ivan’s trek.

“From all reports, we believe they are paying very close attention,” Pulliam said. “The governors in all those coastal states have sounded the alarm and the emergency operations people are up and running. We feel that people are taking it seriously and they should and agents should be advising their policyholders in addition to doing whatever measures they can before they leave to protect their property.”

And for those residents to the north, it is likely that Ivan in some form will pay them a visit.

“We’ve seen that with the two previous hurricanes as they moved up into the southeast and then on to the northeast, there has been significant flooding,” Pulliam added. “If you have a flood insurance policy issued by the National Flood Insurance Program, you will be in good shape. Of course that flood damage is not covered under your standard homeowners’ policy.”

Editor’s note: Please stay tuned to Insurancejournal.com for the latest on Ivan.

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