According to the latest estimate from a disaster-modeling company, Risk Management Solutions Inc. (RMS), Hurricane Irene could cost insurers up to $5.5 billion.
RMS said Irene caused insured losses of $2 billion to $4.5 billion in the U.S. and $500 million to $1 billion in the Caribbean.
Irene downed trees, ripped off roof shingles and left millions of homes without power as it carved a path through some of the most densely packed parts of the country. But the worst of the damage from North Carolina to Vermont appeared to be the result of flooding, which isn't covered under standard homeowners' policies and is largely excluded from the RMS estimate.
A previous estimate from a rival modeling company, Eqecat, pegged insured losses from Irene at $1.8 billion and $3.4 billion in the U.S. and Caribbean. But Eqecat warned that total economic losses were in excess of $10 billion, a figure that includes the cost of the widespread flooding.
A third modeler, AIR Worldwide, pegged insured losses at $3.5 billion to $7.1 billion in the U.S. and the Caribbean.
Analysts that track the insurance industry say Irene will have little impact on the balance sheets of most insurers. The estimated losses pale in comparison to the price tag of some other recent disasters. Swiss Reinsurance Co. last week estimated that catastrophes in the first six months of 2011 cost the insurance industry about $70 billion, primarily because of earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand.
Tornadoes that struck the U.S. this year may also have cost more than Irene, according to data from Swiss Re. The series of April twisters caused insured losses of $6.6 billion in Alabama and elsewhere, while May's tornadoes in Missouri and several other states cost $5.9 billion.