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Karen Clark & Co. Surveys Sandy's Damage

Key observations from the post-disaster damage survey include wind damage well inland, mature shallow-rooted trees falling and the lack of risk mitigation features, such as engineered storm shutters.

The picture of overall insured losses of Hurricane Sandy is still emerging, but the event will likely result in over a million residential and commercial claims, according to Karen Clark & Co. (KCC), which releases a post-disaster damage survey today based on the field observations of the company's engineers.

Some of the worst damage caused by Sandy was owing to storm surge, which exceeded ten feet along parts of of the New Jersey coast, destroying thousands of houses and commercial structures, according to KCC. However, insured losses will result largely from wind damage. As of Nov. 5, State Farm had already received over 75,000 property claims and Nationwide had received over 25,000, KCC reports. This numbers are in line with expectations, showing the majority coming from New York and New Jersey, followed by Pennsylvania.

[For more continuing catastrophe coverage, see yesterday's Sandy's Aftermath: "Disaster Tourists" Add Insult to Injury .]

While Sandy's winds were felt most keenly on the New Jersey and Long Island coasts, KCC says that wind speeds in excess of 40 mph were experienced throughout the state of New Jersey. Reported winds at the New Jersey coast may have been underestimated, KCC reports, because of use of the "Stick-Net" device — a tool developed by Texas Tech University. While effective at their goal of rapid deployment of instrumentation, the Stick-Nets collect measurements at a height of 2.25 meters — which is below the standardized height of 10 meters. Non-standard placement of the devices may have further impacted accuracy, according to KCC.

Among the key observations of the KCC report are the following:

• Low level direct wind damage was observed well inland and across the region. For both residential and commercial structures the predominant pattern was damage to wall cladding and roof covering. For commercial structures, damage to signage was also common.

• Direct wind damage was most severe within a quarter mile of the coastline. Along the coast where wind speeds exceeded 60 mph, twenty-five percent of homes had at least minor roof damage. A significant percentage of structures experienced enough damage to roof covering to warrant complete replacement.

• Many residential areas in the region include mature but shallow-rooted trees. Downed trees were frequent in coastal as well as inland communities.

• Mitigation features such as engineered storm shutters were not common, even in coastal regions. However, some homeowners and businesses had covered doors and windows with plywood.

• Age of structure was a factor in observed losses. New construction and well maintained properties performed better. For more recent construction the age of the home was an indicator of loss, while for older homes, the condition of the roof and exterior cladding was an important factor.

KCC also reported that the frequency of damage observations decreased with increasing distance from the coast, but that "spotty damage was still present 30 miles inland." Those observations are what one would expect, but it does leave me wondering about the definition of "spotty." Over the weekend I encountered a video on Facebook from a resident of my hometown of Hopatcong, N.J., which is in the northwest-most county in the state (Sussex). Perhaps elevation has something to do with it, but the damage seemed more than spotty in the town. The videographer can be excused a degree of melodrama in the titling and production of the video, especially considering that Hopatcong remained without power for more than a week, and that indeed many residents are still without power or phone service or both.

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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