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Hurricane Matthew losses trend down to ‘manageable levels’

Expected losses from Hurricane Matthew have continued to slide, with the US wind-only tally potentially well short of US$5bn and all-in commercially insured losses unlikely to go far beyond the US$5bn mark.

Underwriting sources are increasingly relaxed about the potential scale of the losses, with Florida and the Carolinas subject to only Category 1 winds - sparing the coastline the destructive Category 3 winds that were feared towards the tail end of last week.

With anxiety about severe losses receding, Matthew now looks set to fit into a 2016 pattern, along with the Fort McMurray wildfires and Kumamoto earthquake, of medium-sized loss events that have dented earnings without impacting capital.

There was severe flooding in North Carolina, with Wilmington suffering 18 inches of rain and Lafayette 14 inches, which displaced thousands of people and left hundreds of thousands more without power.

Flood and storm surge losses are excluded under most residential policies, and (re)insurers are likely to escape with relatively modest losses from the damage Matthew has caused in the Carolinas and Georgia.

Commercial policyholders will be able to recover on policies, and some homeowners - particularly high net worth homeowners - purchase separate flood cover.

In addition, there will be some "leakage" into the wind market, as some policyholders typically secure payouts that should not strictly be covered.

But these losses are likely to be relatively modest.

Insured losses in the Bahamas, where the storm struck a direct hit with sustained winds of 140mph (225kph), are likely to be substantial.

One underwriting source said that the area was believed to have exposed aggregate of US$10bn. Another suggested that losses in the US$1bn-$2bn range were likely, with most of the losses set to make their way into the specialty international insurance and reinsurance market.

Over the weekend, RMS said that modelled loss scenarios from Matthew now showed a US wind-only loss in the range of US$2bn-$8bn.

Different Story for Haiti

Haiti's southwestern peninsula is one of the most isolated parts of the country and hardest hit by the hurricane. An aerial view gives a sense of the scale of the damage there.

Six years ago, the region was left largely untouched by the earthquake that shattered the Haitian capital.

This time, the residents were not so lucky.

People living in Port Salut cleaned much of the debris off the roads after the storm, but at night they sleep outside, in the dark. Mangled electrical wires dot the landscape.

Raoul Roa, a Port Salut resident, said he does not know when electricity would be back up again. He said his house was broken down and everything he had was gone.

People say they have had to wait days for emergency medical care, and the country is largely depending on foreign aid (and not insurance) unlike their neighbors Bahamas and Florida.

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