For a storm that inflicted less damage than many had feared, Hurricane Matthew nevertheless impaired or destroyed more than 1 million structures, forced businesses from Florida to North Carolina to close and put thousands temporarily out of work.
In many affected areas, small-business owners were still assessing the damage.
“I’ve never had anything like this in 12 years of business,” said Ami Zipperer, who has two garden supply stores in the Savannah, Georgia, area.
Zipperer said she doesn’t know how much she’s lost or what insurance will cover. She said about 10 percent of her inventory of plants was damaged, but the bigger challenge will come from losing $5,000 to $7,000 a day in revenue. One store is still closed and many homeowners in the area, Zipperer said, aren’t focused right now on landscaping.
All told, the storm probably caused $10 billion in damage, according to an estimate from Goldman Sachs. Insurance companies will likely be liable for about $4 billion to $6 billion of that total, according to an estimate Saturday by CoreLogic, a real estate data provider.
But the figures suggest Matthew’s effect on the broader national economy will be minimal. Though damage estimates are usually revised higher after more comprehensive assessments, the current figures would still make Matthew the 22nd-worst storm since World War II, Goldman estimates.
By comparison, Hurricane Sandy, the second-worst storm, caused $15 billion to $20 billion in insured losses and $50 billion to $60 billion in overall damage in 2012.
Any economic losses pale in light of the 34 lives lost in the United States. Matthew also killed more than 500 people in impoverished Haiti.
Typically, natural disasters temporarily depress local and regional economic activity as stores and restaurants close and people scale back spending after losing homes, cars or other property. But over the long run, rebuilding in the aftermath of disasters can offset much of the damage, leaving little overall economic impact.
In Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, Clayton Rollins said he doesn’t yet know how severe his losses will be after Hurricane Matthew forced him to shut his restaurant, the Lucky Rooster Kitchen & Bar.
The restaurant absorbed no structural damage, but Rollins estimates he lost $15,000 in food because of the power outage. He also has a wine collection that might have suffered without air conditioning. Losing business over the normally busy Columbus Day weekend was also a blow.
“We count on the weekend to carry us through four or five weeks to Thanksgiving,” he said.
It’s too soon to tell, Rollins said, how much of his loss will be covered by insurance.
Homeowners can expect to shoulder a higher burden of costs from Matthew, because homeowners’ insurance policies trigger their own set of deductibles — the portion that must be covered by the policyholder — when there is wind damage caused by a hurricane.
These days, homeowners who live close to the coast tend to opt for a 5 percent deductible on the hurricane wind damage portion of their policy, said Bob Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America.
In that example, a homeowner with a $200,000 policy on their home would be on the hook for $10,000 of the repair costs.
“A significant part of the risk is now back on homeowners,” Hunter said. “And some of that ends up being disaster relief, so taxpayers also get involved more.”
The storm also forced the Port of Savannah, the nation’s fourth-busiest container port, to shut down for several days during the peak season, when retailers are importing their holiday inventories. Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, said he thinks any backlog caused by the storm should be eliminated by Saturday.
“There was a delay for all the retailers; they lost a day or two,” Lynch said. “But I think by the end of the week, assuming we get the vessels in here Wednesday, probably by Saturday we’ll be back on track.”
Hurricane Sandy temporarily cost about 30,000 jobs, according to Goldman, mostly in restaurants, hotels, and education in New York and New Jersey. Yet the rebuilding efforts contributed within weeks to a substantial economic rebound of about 40,000 positions, including a big increase in construction.
Given Matthew’s smaller impact, Goldman Sachs estimates that it might cost about 5,000 jobs in October. The entire U.S. economy has about 144 million jobs.
In much of the affected areas, things are slowly returning to normal.
Darcy O’Connor reopened her restaurant, Firefly Cafe, Tuesday on Troup Square in Savannah’s downtown historic district. The cafe had been closed since Thursday, when the city and surrounding Chatham County were ordered to evacuate.
O’Connor said her restaurant never lost power, so she didn’t have to empty the fridge or freezer. She had hoped to open for brunch Sunday and recoup at least some weekend business. But not enough of her eight employees were available to work.
“It was a totally lost weekend, which is pretty upsetting,” O’Connor said. Still, “it’s survivable. We’re just thankful everybody is OK. Business is second to everything else.”