No, New York, Sandy Was Not Katrina

Hurricane Katrina at peak strength on Aug. 28, 2005.

Sandy was not Katrina.

The storm that rocked the Eastern seaboard this week was a monumental event by any measurement. The death toll in New York City alone was 26 at last count, and dozens more died along the coast, as wind, water, fire and, often, falling trees claimed lives.

Indeed, for all of us who watched the storm ravage the Jersey Shore, or for that matter, saw the explosion at the Con Edison plant on 14th Street in Manhattan, or surveyed the damage in sections of Brooklyn and Queens, it’s hard to imagine a more destructive disaster.

But as the inevitable comparisons between the two storms gather force, it bears remembering that 1,833 people died in the U.S. during Hurricane Katrina, according to the National Hurricane Center, and that the economic costs related to the storm topped $74 billion.

Stephen Appelbaum, a property and casualty insurance analyst at the Aite Group, used the National Hurricane Center’s list of most expensive hurricanes, alongside current estimates that the economic impact from Sandy would reach $20 billion, to rank this week’s storm as the fourth most expensive U.S. hurricane. The top three: Katrina, Andrew (1992; $25.6 billion) and Ike (2008; $21.1 billion).

To be sure, Sandy wreaked extensive havoc on the area, and the losses sustained are tragic on the personal and community levels. But it’s worth considering Sandy with a little bit of perspective. Insurance companies paid $41 billion in claims on damages incurred during Hurricane Katrina, according to the Insurance Information Institute, and about $40 billion on the tsunami that wrecked Japan last year, per Munich Re via Bloomberg.

Catastrophe modeling firm Eqecat, meanwhile, is forecasting $5 billion to $10 billion in insurance costs on Sandy. (Estimates for the five boroughs are not yet available, the firm told us.)

In part, that may because New York was ready. Hurricane Katrina will likely always be remembered for the inadequacy of the government’s response to the overwhelming storm. With Sandy, local, state and federal governments have mostly earned high marks. If the mayor of Atlantic City acted in poor judgement when he advised residents not to evacuate the area, others gained praise, whether it was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie applauding President Barack Obama’s leadership, or local touts lauding MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota for moving subway cars to high ground.

The damages from Sandy continue to mount. Mr. Appelbaum told The Observer over the telephone that these types of damage estimates tend to rise, not fall, as time passes. On a more urgent level, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz has called for the National Guard to help stop looting in Sea Gate and Coney Island. For the areas such as Breezy Point that bore an undue brunt of the storm, the distinction between one storm and another is meaningless.

Still, if it’s not too soon to step back from the immediacy of Sandy, New Yorkers should be mindful of the people of the Gulf Coast region—and the more than 1,800 people who lost their lives during Hurricane Katrina—and not compare this storm to that one.

It’s our good fortune to have been spared far greater destruction.

No, New York, Sandy Was Not Katrina