Coronavirus Adds to Recovery Challenges in Southeast U.S. After Tornadoes Ravage the Region

By Daniel Betten AND Saumi Shokraee Natural Hazard, Real Estate

On April 12 and 13, 2020, severe weather swept through the Southeast U.S. A total of 86 tornadoes tore through the region, leading to the loss of at least 34 lives. Over the two-day storm period, CoreLogic® Tornado Verification Technology monitored the tornadoes and estimated structural impacts and reconstruction costs.

Assessing Storm Damage Across Regions

Across all regions, more than 40,000 structures were affected, causing damage that will cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars to repair. These aggregate damages are only a small fraction of the full reconstruction cost of over $5 billion.

In Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama, approximately 23,448 structures were potentially damaged with a total reconstruction value of nearly $2.95 billion.

The most damaging tornado, an EF3 with wind speeds up to 145 mph[1], occurred in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and was responsible for potentially 12,218 incidents of structural impact and $1.99 billion of the reconstruction costs.

Tornado Footprint

Two severe tornadoes – an EF4 and EF3 – hit southern Mississippi, impacting upwards of 4,008 structures with a reconstruction cost of nearly $199.6 million. Mississippi reported the most deaths of any of the affected states, with 11 confirmed fatalities.[2]

The tornadoes that scattered across Georgia impacted upwards of 3,028 structures with a reconstruction cost of $262.1 million.

In South Carolina, tornadoes scattered across the state impacted upwards of 2,192 structures with a reconstruction cost of $209.4 million. Meanwhile, in Alabama, tornadoes across the state impacted upwards of 1,120 structures with a reconstruction cost of $215.7 million.

Global Pandemic Adds Challenges to Post-Disaster Recovery

Extenuating circumstances surrounding the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, such as social distancing and indefinite quarantines, are making recovery from these catastrophic storms even more challenging than normal. Experts are concerned that nonessential business shutdowns will drastically hinder the ability of these towns to recover through reconstruction.

Fortunately, though much construction has been halted due to the pandemic, aggregate materials should still be available for builders. With softening demand for construction materials, manufacturers have ample supplies available for distribution, though there may be regional disparities regarding access to these resources.

If reconstruction is deemed an “essential business,” the construction labor supply should be adequate, though social distancing measures will likely slow down reconstruction efforts while adding to costs. Construction monitoring in the form of permits, approvals and inspections will also be necessarily delayed.

Displaced residents of damaged towns will experience significant ramifications of quarantine. After a home is damaged by a tornado, homeowners are confronted with reconstruction costs followed by additional living expenses. As a result of hotel, restaurant and retail closures, these residents will have limited last-minute housing and sustenance options. With fewer hotel accommodations, homeowners will likely experience higher housing and commuting costs. Restaurant closures will add to the struggle by limiting access to prepared food.

Rising to the Challenge

With humidity, warm air and strong winds in the Southeast, many communities in the region worry that the coming storm season will bring more tornadoes and other severe weather. This will continue to be a challenge for the region as it simultaneously works to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

For more information on the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on the housing market, please visit COVID-19: Housing Market Updates.

For more information on catastrophic event insights, visit Hazard HQ.

[1] National Weather Service, “NWS Morristown,” April 2020

[2] New York Times, “At Least 29 Are Killed as Tornadoes and Severe Weather Strike Southern States,” April 12, 2020

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