Hurricane Irma left Florida days ago but the state’s economy, the fourth-largest in the U.S., is feeling the hit.
Its citrus groves are littered with knocked-down fruit and felled trees. Beach hotels and restaurants are cleaning up after being shut for a week with forced evacuations. After the cancellation of hundreds of flights and numerous cruises, the state’s airports and seaports are just reopening. And on the Space Coast, home to the Kennedy Space Center, officials were still assessing potential damage and disruptions to launch schedules.
In the tourism magnet of Miami Beach, where the city’s roughly 22,000 hotel rooms stood virtually empty for a week, the lost revenue from that stream alone could top $25 million, according to city and industry tourism figures.
Irma is “going to be a very significant financial burden on businesses,” said
chief executive of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce.
To be sure, the state is still struggling with loss of life in the storm’s aftermath: Not counting the deaths of eight nursing home patients Wednesday after Hurricane Irma knocked out power, at least 17 people in Florida have died under Irma-related circumstances, Associated Press reported late Wednesday.
Losses in agriculture, the state’s second largest industry after tourism, are expected to be in the billions of dollars, according to the Florida Farm Bureau. In Okeechobee County in southern Florida, for instance, an informal evaluation cited by the Farm Bureau pegged the loss at $16 million.
Overall, the total economic cost of Irma, including property damage and lost economic output, could reach $83 billion, according to an estimate by Moody’s Analytics. That compares with a toll as high as $108 billion for Hurricane Harvey, which struck Texas last month, the firm said.
Catastrophe-modeling firm Karen Clark & Co. calculated that insured losses from Irma would be $18 billion. The storm caused the most structural damage in the Florida Keys, while impacts on the mainland owed chiefly to fallen trees and inland flooding, according to the firm.
Yet Florida’s economy is in solid shape, with a booming population that reached 20.6 million last year, record numbers of tourists and a growing health-care sector, said Sean Snaith, an economist at the University of Central Florida. The state’s gross domestic product, a broad measure of goods and services produced, grew 3% last year, compared with 1.5% in the U.S., according to the Board of Economic Advisers.
“It’s going to be a bit of a setback, but I don’t think it’s sufficient to knock us off the trend we’ve been on growthwise,” he said.
Tourism officials emphasized that attractions were back in business. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, an amusement park, said it was open for visitors and all of its 12,000 animals accounted for. In Orlando,
World opened for normal hours Wednesday, except for its water resorts and a few hotels. The Legoland theme park was set to reopen Thursday, and the Orlando Eye, a 40-story observation wheel, was scheduled to resume operations pending completion of safety checks.
It is rare for Orlando’s theme parks to close down. When Disney World closed at 5 p.m. Saturday and reopened Tuesday, it was only the fifth time the park had shut for a full day or more in its 46 years, according to a spokeswoman. The most recent closing was in October 2016, for a day-and-a-half due to Hurricane Matthew.
Carnival Cruise Line, which canceled a half-dozen voyages scheduled to depart last weekend, was resuming service. Starting Thursday, all sailings are scheduled to depart on time, the cruise operator said.
Jacksonville Beach in northern Florida was returning to normal Wednesday, with beachgoers playing corn hole at oceanfront bars. The Beachside Seafood Restaurant and Market had few empty seats. Though the establishment lost power for a short time during the storm, it didn’t lose fresh seafood and other merchandise, said owner Jason Arteaga.
After seeing reports of the devastation from Hurricane Harvey and the ominous forecasts for Irma, Mr. Arteaga said he had been bracing for a lengthy disruption of his business. “I’m counting my blessings that we didn’t have more time down,” he said. “People are definitely out and about.”
But Irma’s damage wasn’t as easily cleaned up for farmers who are contending with power failures, ruined crops and damaged equipment, according to the Florida Farm Bureau.
In Brevard County, east of Orlando, roughly 50,000 acres of pasture were underwater Wednesday, jeopardizing the health of cattle, the farm bureau said. In Putnam County, west of St. Augustine, vegetable growers couldn’t enter fields because storm damage blocked access. Blueberry producers in central Florida were grappling with acreage that remained submerged.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner
took an aerial tour of the state Wednesday and said he saw huge swaths of destruction, including sheds and buildings split apart. He estimated the crop loss in southwest Florida would exceed 70% because of flooding of root systems and downed trees.
“Agriculture took it on the chin,” he said. “I was surprised by the scale of flooding.”
Florida’s $800 million citrus industry, which has battled a host of challenges in recent years including disease, was especially hurt, with growers concerned that losses will reach 50% of the crop.
“Every single citrus grove has been affected adversely in some way by Hurricane Irma,” said
chief executive of the Florida Citrus Mutual, a marketing cooperative.
For the tourism industry, which generates more than $100 billion in visitor spending annually, getting back up to speed is proving a slow process.
On Wednesday, the National Hotel in South Beach reopened with limited service, with full service expected by the weekend. Though the hotel’s two buildings didn’t experience significant damage, “it has definitely been an outdoor disaster,” said Yaser Mohamad, the general manager.
The storm sent water into lobbies, coated the grounds in sand and ravaged the landscaping. With 152 rooms closed for a week, the financial hit from cancellations likely exceeds $150,000, Mr. Mohamad said.
At Hank & Harry’s Delicatessen, an eatery several blocks away, workers scrambled Wednesday to get the place fully operational by Friday. The restaurant lost an estimated $60,000 in sales, along with $25,000 in lost inventory, said owner Buzzy Sklar.
“There’s really still no one on the streets,” he said. But given that Miami was spared a direct hit by Irma, he said, “we got lucky. We will survive.”
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