Hurricane Ida and its remnants caused up to $95 billion in damage, much of that in Northeastern states hit by torrential rains, putting the storm into a league with other deadly cyclones that have crippled the region in recent years, according to analysts.
Joel N. Myers, the Accuweather founder and chief executive, on Friday estimated total damage and economic loss from Hurricane Ida at about $95 billion.
Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s, estimated that the total cost of Ida’s physical damage alone to property, buildings, and public infrastructure at up to $50 billion. Half of that occurred in Northeastern states where the storm triggered flash floods and tornadoes that claimed more than 40 lives, including five in the Philadelphia region.
Zandi said Ida’s damage amounted to about half the cost in today’s dollars of Hurricane Sandy, the 2012 storm that slammed the East Coast, and a quarter of the cost of Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 storm that hit the Gulf Coast and New Orleans.
He added that the storm’s impact complicates the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic as a greater number of workers had begun to return to the office after more than a year of remote working. “This just adds to the nightmare storyline,” he said. “It’s one more painful thing.”
Noting the disruption to transit systems, highways, and smaller streets, Zandi said he believes the most costly fallout of the storm was the impact to commuters. “People can’t get to work and do what they need to do,” he said.
Other analysts had different estimates. AIR Worldwide, an extreme event modeling firm, estimated that insured losses from Ida’s winds and storm surges will range from $17 billion to $25 billion. The tally did not include damage caused from precipitation, which would exclude much of the flooding that hit the Northeast.
Many business leaders and public officials across the Philadelphia region were still mired in emergency repairs and cleanup on Friday and had not completed assessments, making precise estimates of damage elusive.
“It takes time, because there is a difference between overall flood damage and insurance coverage, and it is more complicated than at first blush,” said Samuel Marshall, president of the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania. Businesses also must pay cleanup costs and take into account lost revenue from reduced traffic.
Flood waters filled and severely damaged the 10 or so buildings of the Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Art Wednesday when remnants from Hurricane Ida swept through the area. No art was harmed or destroyed by the rising waters of Brandywine Creek, said Andrew Stewart, spokesperson for the museum specializing in the art of Andrew Wyeth and his family and the Brandywine School. But initial damage to the buildings, their systems, and contents appears to be significant, with the full extent of wreckage still unclear.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission said it was too early to assess the damage to utilities, which experienced 110,000 outages. Peco Energy, which reported the largest number of outages, said it had not yet completed its analysis. Service to most customers was expected to be restored by Friday night.
The Philadelphia Water Department on Friday said its Belmont Pumping Station in Fairmount Park was submerged and damaged by record floods on the Schuylkill, and will be out of service for at least a week. The facility supplies raw river water to the department’s Belmont Treatment Plant. The city said there is sufficient supply from other treatment plants, and that service to customers was uninterrupted.
Montgomery County, which took the brunt of the storm’s floodwaters and high winds, received 665 reports of damage through its online reporting tool by 9 a.m. Friday, said Todd Stieritz, spokesperson for the county’s public safety department. The county had not yet tallied cost estimates on which business sectors or locations were hit hardest.
Communities in low-lying areas were hardest hit, especially along the Schuylkill and its tributaries that captured rainfalls of up to 10 inches. Tornadoes inflicted devastating gusts on areas, such as Upper Dublin Township in Montgomery County, where the municipal building was severely damaged by wind. The township relocated operations to a fire station, said Rebecca Lohoefer, the communications director.
Chester County had not yet calculated damage from flash flooding in Downingtown, Coatesville, Caln Township, and Modena, a spokesperson said Friday. A tornado also significantly damaged a neighborhood in East Nottingham Township.
Inspection crews in Bucks County will be sent out to look at road beds for erosion by the state transportation agency as well as local authorities. “There are roads all over the county washed out,” said a spokesperson with the Bucks County government.
SEPTA is still uncertain about the cost of storm, which forced the closure of the Norristown High Speed Line and the Manayunk/Norristown regional rail line, spokesperson Andrew Busch said Friday.
“The water has receded but we are doing inspections on what we need to do,” Busch said. Some of the signals and switching equipment will have to be restored and some of the railbed will need to be rebuilt, he said. SEPTA will also have to repair some of the street-grade rail crossings, which Busch called mostly labor-intensive work.
Some businesses were unscathed, or recovered quickly.
Major health providers Jefferson Health and the University of Pennsylvania Health System said their facilities were mostly untouched. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia canceled COVID-19 testing Thursday because of flooding in the garage of the Roberts Center for Pediatric Research, along the Schuylkill. Work resumed Friday, said spokesperson Emily DiTomo.
Vanguard’s offices near Malvern remained fully operational throughout Hurricane Ida, a company spokesperson said.
Philadelphia International Airport experienced some flight cancelations but no damage. “PHL continues to run smoothly with no flooding or damage to airport property or infrastructure,” airport spokesperson Florence Brown said Friday.
The bill for some storm costs may come due in years ahead as businesses and public agencies harden their facilities against weather events that seem to be getting more severe with each passing year.
Aqua Pennsylvania, the largest private water supplier in the Philadelphia suburbs, was assessing the costs to clean up two water treatment plants near Valley Forge, including the largest plant in its system, the Pickering Creek West plant in Schuylkill Township, Chester County. Aqua asked customers to curb nonessential uses to conserve supply.
Aqua’s Pickering West plant was inundated by a record high waters on the Schuylkill despite the company having spent $20 million on plant improvements a decade ago, including a project to raise the height of floodwalls to protect the plant from a 100-year flood.
Wednesday’s flood suggests that a reassessment is in order, said Marc Lucca, president of Aqua Pennsylvania.
“Here we are today with changing weather patterns, and so we’re trying to address those as they come at us,” said Lucca. “This was truly an unprecedented and historic event that is going to have us looking at all those types of design standards.”
In New Jersey, public officials credited improvements made since Hurricane Sandy in 2012 with reducing Ida’s impact on electric utilities. Substations that flooded in 2012 were able to withstand rising waters this week, and Gov. Phil Murphy said more customers would have been knocked out before those facilities were hardened. Even so, 92,000 New Jersey customers lost power -- by Friday, just under 12,000 were still out.
“It’s quite clear that our state and our nation does not have the infrastructure to meet this moment and to meet the future as it relates to these storms, which are more frequent and more intense,” Murphy said Friday.
Inquirer staff writers Harold Brubaker, Catherine Dunn, Peter Dobrin, and Allison Steele contributed to this article.