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Florence's Estimated Damage Toll Exceeds 2,600 Commercial Properties

More Buildings May Flood as Swollen Rivers Crest, CoStar Analysis Shows
September 21, 2018

CoStar aerial survey of Florence damage

More than 2,600 buildings spanning almost 30 million square feet of commercial real estate across the Carolinas were under at least a foot of water after Hurricane Florence, according to the first major analysis of confirmed property damage.

Storm surges, days of rain and cresting rivers caused by the season's first substantial U.S. hurricane to make landfall left portions of 2,616 properties in North Carolina and South Carolina under water, some as late as Thursday.

The Nuese River and other waterways are now estimated to keep rising to a crest this coming weekend, making the current damage estimates preliminary, according to CoStar analyst Patrick McCafferty. The initial data is key for commercial property owners, brokers and insurance companies to evaluate coverage and potential investments the region and to plan for any preventative measures involving existing holdings.

McCafferty compiled the estimated damage analysis from several sources, including data from the Dartmouth Flood Observatory, NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. Flyovers by CoStar Group's research reconnaissance plane recorded photos and video of the damaged areas, providing visual support for estimates of damaged commercial districts.

Click map to view.About 30 million square feet of property has been damaged by Hurricane Florence and its aftermath, according to preliminary CoStar estimates.

"The rivers are still rising, so the extent or severity of the inundation of specific buildings is up in the air at this point," McCafferty said. "It's hard to tell what's totaled and what isn't."

Hurricane Florence flooded areas of commercial and residential districts, from Charleston and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, up the coast to where the storm made landfall on Sept. 14 near the port city of Wilmington, North Carolina, to Morehead City and New Bern near North Carolina's Outer Banks, and inland as much as 80 miles in communities such as Kinston and Lumberton. These areas have been submerged between 3 feet to 5 feet of water this week, especially near the coasts and low-lying areas near North Carolina's bulging rivers.

The flooding so far doesn't match the massive scale and destructive intensity that followed recent hurricanes, such as Harvey and Irma a year ago, but seaside Wilmington remains cut off by floodwaters as numerous coastal towns and cities are still without power in areas inundated by storm water in both states.

 Read More CoStar Coverage of Hurricane Florence 

Hundreds of roads and thousands of businesses are still closed and several rivers in North Carolina are still rising, with some of the worst flooding affecting places far inland, including Kinston, population 21,000, a low-lying city along the Neuse River about 85 miles southeast of Raleigh.

The Nuese was spilling over its banks in Kinston on Thursday, forcing officials to close a several-mile stretch of Highway 70, the main route between New Bern and Raleigh. The river wasn't expected to crest until Saturday and officials expect the highway to be closed for several days, as it was during previous hurricanes, most recently Fran in 1996, Floyd in 1999 and Matthew two years ago.

The Piggly Wiggly supermarket at 407 E. New Bern Rd., in Kinston appeared to be accessible only by boat in an aerial photo made by CoStar's plane this week. The store and several other buildings in the nearby shopping center, which showed a dry parking lot filled with cars and shoppers in a Google Earth image from last year, looked like islands or oil platforms in a sea of brown water this week. Attempts to reach merchants in the area were thwarted by "all circuits are busy" messages late Thursday.

BEFORE: A crowded shopping center anchored by the local Piggly Wiggly in Kinston, North Carolina, in late 2017. Source: Google Earth.

AFTER: Image of the same center captured by CoStar research plane CoStar 1 this week after Hurricane Florence caused the nearby Nuese River to spill over its banks.

The estimated death toll from Hurricane Florence reached as high as 31 in North Carolina, according to news reports, surpassing Matthew as one of the deadliest storms in state history, a disaster that was blamed for 28 deaths. The National Weather Service on Thursday described the overwhelming rain levels as a "1,000-year event" that dumped an estimated 8 trillion gallons of water over three days, meaning a storm that has just a 0.1 percent chance of happening in any given year.

Hurricane Harvey tied with 2005's Hurricane Katrina as the costliest storm in history, triggering $125 billion in catastrophic flooding caused by more than 40 inches of rain that fell over eastern Texas over four days in late August 2017, causing reservoirs to spill over and debris flows in the Houston area. Harvey and the ensuing Irma, which hit the Florida Keys in the first week of September, were the strongest of 10 major Atlantic hurricanes last year that caused an estimated 3,000 deaths and a combined $282 billion damage.

Following Hurricane Florence, shopping centers, freestanding stores and storefronts appear to be the largest casualty of the floodwaters, with at least 1,750 retail properties of that type totaling 16 million square feet facing some level of water damage.

Click chart to view.About 30 million square feet of property has been damaged by Hurricane Florence and its aftermath, according to preliminary CoStar estimates - four time less than the damage in Houston related to Hurricane Harvey a year ago.

At least 683 office properties, accounting for 5.5 million square feet, are in the confirmed flood damage zones, along with 137 apartment buildings, totaling another 5.5 million square feet. Forty-five motels and hotels had damage.

By total commercial space involved, the 118.5 million square feet of properties damaged by Hurricane Harvey a year ago was four times the 29.7 million square feet damaged in North and South Carolina over the past week. Although the number of apartment properties involved was similar for both floods, five times more apartment property square footage was damaged in the Houston area and nearly three times more office space was affected in Houston's inventory of larger office buildings than this week.

With the rain over for now, McCafferty said a more accurate preliminary assessment of actual damage should be available in coming days as high-water levels peak. Damage estimates may come faster than following last year's Harvey because the rain from Florence was more concentrated and didn't last as long, with no breached reservoir or any other apparent storm prevention system failures, he said.

"Still, authorities won't have complete damage totals for probably a year," said McCafferty, adding that complete damage totals for last year's catastrophic hurricane season have only recently become available.

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