Study puts area storm surge cost at $28.1B

This Charleston-area home was devastated by Hurricane Hugo’s 21-foot storm surge in 1989.

A major hurricane’s surging waters from a direct hit in the Charleston area would affect 112,000 homes and cost $28.1 billion to rebuild, a new report has found.

Along South Carolina’s coast, more than 308,000 single-family homes sit in the path of a raging storm surge. The total reconstruction cost would be $70.4 billion in the Palmetto State if the entire coast took a hit.

Those are the latest findings of property information provider CoreLogic in a national report that found 6.6 million homes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts are at risk of being inundated from a hurricane’s swell of water.

The total reconstruction cost for all homes in the study area is nearly $1.5 trillion, just under half the size of the federal budget, in the unlikely scenario that all of them had to be rebuilt.

The California-based firm analyzed risks from hurricane-driven storm surges for homes in 19 states and the District of Columbia. It also looked at 84 metropolitan areas in five risk levels of low, moderate, high, very high and extreme.

In Charleston-North Charleston, more than 42,000 homes lie in the extreme risk zone and would be affected by all hurricane category levels, according to CoreLogic.

A spokesman for the S.C. Emergency Management Division said the dollar figure CoreLogic is using for the state is lower than the state agency’s estimate because the state uses a wider base along the coast that includes more properties.

The state’s estimated value for residential property along the coast is about $250 billion, but agency spokesman Derrec Becker said the state bases its estimates on evacuation zones that reach farther inland than the immediate coastline, so more properties are included.

CoreLogic’s analysis compares homes that are not within Federal Emergency Management Agency 100-year floodplains against the number of homes located in surge inundation zones, as well as those located in both surge and FEMA Special Flood Hazard Areas.

The firm’s study uses water height compared to the terrain to arrive at storm-reconstruction cost estimates, said Tom Jeffery, senior hazard risk scientist for CoreLogic. “We don’t run our data to any political boundaries. That would incorporate a lot more structures,” he said.

CoreLogic also estimates the cost to rebuild the property in the event of a total loss. It does not use property market values or new construction cost estimations. CoreLogic’s report also does not include multifamily residences.

No matter which way it’s put, a catastrophic storm surge in Charleston would be costly.

“If we got a direct hit in the Charleston area, we have been told that the insurance industry would pay $30 to 40 billion, and we would pay about $10 billion because State Farm has 25 percent of the market here,” said State Farm agent Billy Swails.

Swails, the former Mount Pleasant mayor, cautioned those numbers are probably a couple of years old and the estimate is probably higher now because of property appreciation and more growth along the coast.

The Atlantic hurricane season, which runs June 1 through Nov. 30, is projected to be below normal, with six to 11 named storms and up to two possibly morphing into major hurricanes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center.

“A below-normal season doesn’t mean we’re off the hook,” said NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan. “As we’ve seen before, below-normal seasons can still produce catastrophic impacts to communities.”

She was referring to the 1992 season when only seven named storms formed. That’s when Hurricane Andrew ripped apart South Florida.

“The number of hurricanes each year is less important than the location of where the next hurricane will come ashore,” CoreLogic’s Jeffery said in a statement. “It only takes one hurricane that pushes storm surge into a major metropolitan area for the damage to tally in the billions of dollars.”

Three years ago, Hurricane Sandy, also called Superstorm Sandy, caused about $68 billion in damage when it barreled into the northeastern United States, coming ashore just north of Atlantic City, N.J.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.