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Florida's economic hit from Hurricane Irma expected to total billions

By Ed Adamczyk
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Florida's economic hit from Hurricane Irma expected to total billions
Debris from Hurricane Irma litters a marina in Miami on Monday. Economists predicted the state's economic loss due to the storm could reach $83 billion. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 15 (UPI) -- Economic losses to Florida's economy because of Hurricane Irma are being measured in the tens of billions of dollars, analysts said.

The hurricane's total economic hit, including property damage and lost economic output, could total $83 billion, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. The losses come after a 3 percent growth in the state's gross domestic product in 2016, compared to 1.5 percent in the United States as a whole during that period, the U.S. Council of Economic Advisers said.

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The Florida economy is the fourth-largest in the United States, with tourism and agriculture its leading industries. As beachfront hotels and restaurants resume operations after over a week of near-total shutdown, Miami Beach alone lost over $25 million, city and tourism industry leaders estimated. Jerry Libbin, CEO of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, called the hurricane "a very significant financial burden on businesses."

Tourist attractions reopened quickly after the hurricane. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Orlando's Disney World and the Legoland theme park all reopened this week. Carnival Cruise Lines resumed operations Thursday after cancelling six voyages in the Caribbean Sea. Jacksonville's beachfront restaurants were also open for business by Thursday.

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Agriculture losses are expected to be in the billions as well, the Florida Farm Bureau said. An informal evaluation by the bureau of Okeechobee County put losses there at $16 million. Over 50,000 acres of Brevard County's cattle pastures remained under water this week, and storm damage prevented harvesting of fruit crops.

The losses to the state's $800 million citrus industry were especially severe, with growers expecting a 50 percent decline in production because of flooded root systems, downed trees and inability to harvest. Another concern is the return of evacuees.

"The evacuation of much of the Sunshine State alone would have accounted for billions in lost output alone, even if the storm changed course and avoided Florida altogether. Combine that with evacuees' inability to return to work due to road closures and the widespread power outages roiling Florida, and the economic disruption will prove significant," Mark Zandi of Moody's Analytics wrote in a report cited by CNBC.

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Economists said Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma will significantly impact the United States' third-quarter GDP growth figures. Oxford Economics predicted a 0.4 percent decline because of the disruptions caused by the storms. Goldman Sachs said to expect a 0.8 percent decline.

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