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Frances' costs: $3B or more
Estimates range up to $10 billion; now forecast as fifth-costliest storm in U.S. history.
September 7, 2004: 1:14 PM EDT

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Anticipated losses from Hurricane Frances could make it the fifth-costliest storm in U.S. history, but it might also end up being less expensive than Hurricane Charley, which hit Florida less than a month ago.

Frances came ashore a second time from the Gulf of Mexico as a less-violent tropical storm Monday night, this time hitting the less-densely populated Florida panhandle before moving into Georgia. Overall, the storm is blamed for at least 10 deaths. (Click here for a look at's storm coverage.)

The latest loss estimate from Risk Management Solutions puts insured losses from Frances at $3 billion to $6 billion. The catastrophe-modeling firm, which provides estimates for the insurance industry, had earlier estimated losses at $2 billion to $10 billion in the storm's immediate aftermath.

Both estimates were far below RMS' initial estimate last week of up to $35 billion, when it was feared that Frances could hit heavily populated South Florida head-on with higher winds.

Another catastrophe-modeling firm, AIR Worldwide, estimated losses would be $5 billion to $10 billion.

A loss of $3 billion would make Frances the No. 5 storm, just behind the $3.3 billion in inflation-adjusted losses caused by Hurricane Georges in 1998.

Hurricane Charley, which hit Florida on Aug. 13, caused losses now estimated at $6.8 billion, according to initial insurance claims. That would make it second only to Hurricane Andrew, the 1992 storm that caused inflation-adjusted losses of about $20 billion.

Frances was much weaker than Charley, with maximum sustained winds of about 105 mph when it initially hit Florida, compared with Charley's 140 mph. But Frances' hurricane-force winds extended about 85 miles out from the center, making it a far wider storm than Charley, which had a very compact storm center. Frances also moved much more slowly.

One factor that could drive up costs from Frances: It has closely followed Charley in roughly the same geographic area, exacerbating Charley's damage. ROMS CEO Hemant Shah said last week that there could be shortages of the Florida contractors and building supplies needed to repair damage from the second storm.

Citrus crop, tourism hit

The Florida citrus industry, which lost about 20 percent of its crop for next year from Charley, underwent further damage from Frances, according to one official.

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While there's a sigh of relief Florida's latest storm wasn't as damaging as initially feared, it still dealt a punch that is being felt financially. CNNfn's Mary Snow reports.

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Florida Citrus Mutual, the trade group for the Florida citrus growers, said that Polk County, the state's largest citrus producer with more than 100,000 acres of orange groves, has been hit particularly hard, with the eye of both storms passing through the county. The county is located between Tampa and Orlando.

"We think there are going to be serious losses to the fresh fruit industry," Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson told a press briefing Tuesday. "The amount of fruit on the ground in some places is even greater than it was with Charley in the west."

Casey Pace, spokeswoman for Florida Citrus Mutual, said that $225 million in federal assistance had already been promised to help citrus farmers with losses from Charley alone, but she said more help will likely be needed for losses from Frances.

She said an initial $150 million loss estimate from Charley factored in lost crops only, not damage to buildings, equipment or trees.

The overwhelming majority of Florida's citrus crop goes to production of orange juice, rather than fresh fruit sales. But Frances hit East Coast counties -- which produce most of Florida's fresh fruit -- that Charley had largely spared. It also hit some of grapefruit groves.

Futures for the October contract for orange solids jumped about 4 cents to 78.5 cents a pound in midmorning trading, said Jason Roose, vice president of U.S. Commodities Inc. in West Des Moines, Iowa. He said he expected the futures would close at the 5 cent limit gain for the day.

"I think there was probably more damage than expected," said Roose, who pointed out that prices had fallen slightly Friday ahead of the storm. Frances charged onto Florida's east coast early Sunday as a hurricane, then it was downgraded in strength and came ashore a second time Monday night as a tropical storm.

Roose estimated that prices are now 20 to 24 percent above pre-Charley levels. But a strong harvest of this year's crop, which has left inventories of orange-juice solids at high levels, and more exports to the United States from countries like Brazil have kept prices from rising more.

Tourism also is likely to be affected. Although with many schools already back in session, Frances may have had less impact than Charley. But losing a holiday weekend could hurt some attractions.

"We believe the Labor Day weekend is a significant weekend for local resident attendance," said a note from Richard Greenfield of Fulcrum Global Partners, who follows Walt Disney Co. (DIS: Research, Estimates) "We believe the net impact of Charley and Frances implies that attendance will likely be down in Disney's fiscal fourth quarter."


Disney closed its Orlando area resorts Saturday and Sunday, which reopened Monday on a limited schedule. The company expected its resorts to operate normally Tuesday, saying it had found little damage from the storm.

Spokespeople were not immediately available for comment Tuesday, but one told CNN on Monday that, "this holiday is typically one of the busiest, and we were closed Saturday and Sunday. So that is a big loss."  Top of page

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