Hospitals try to weather challenges of Hurricane Irma

Storm weakening as it progresses up the Florida peninsula, cutting power and limiting access.

Florida hospitals are continuing to cope with high winds and storm-surge caused flooding resulting from Hurricane Irma.

By Monday morning, the hurricane had been downgraded to a Category 1 rating, pummeling cities along the eastern coastline of the state.

An estimated three dozen hospitals throughout the state have been forced to close or significantly limit operations, according to various news reports.

Storm-surge flooding and the loss of electricity have become some of the biggest effects of the natural disaster.

As of Monday morning, an estimated 5.5 million residents were without power, exceeding initial estimates by power companies serving the state. On Friday, NextEra Energy’s Florida Power & Light utility was warning that 4.1 million of its customers could lose power, almost half of the state’s population. Duke Energy estimated that Irma could knock out service to more than 1 million customers.

Hospitals, in these situations, were operating on backup power generators. Hialeah Hospital ran dangerously low on fuel late Sunday night for its generator, the Miami Herald reported. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted at 9:58 p.m. that the hospital had “less than 2 hours of diesel” and had no power. The paper reported that the Miami-Dade Emergency Operations Center dispatched the fire department to help, which delivered 800 gallons of fuel.

But even before the full damage could be tallied, Irma’s impact was falling short of predictions by a number of measures.

Reinsurance firms including Swiss Re, Munich Re and Hannover Re were reporting that the most dire predictions about Hurricane Irma were proving to be wrong.

While it’s too early to estimate the costs to Hannover Re and the wider industry, the storm didn’t follow the path that would have created the greatest damage, Chief Executive Officer Ulrich Wallin said at a press conference in Monte Carlo.

Enki Research’s estimate for total damages caused by Irma dropped to $49 billion from $200 billion as the hurricane dwindled to a Category 2 before reaching the populous Tampa Bay area. Chuck Watson, an Enki disaster modeler in Georgia estimated insured losses at about $19 billion. Reinsurers cover other insurance companies in the event of major disaster losses.

“Modeling indicates that there is a 10 percent chance of insured wind losses from Irma exceeding $60 billion,” catastrophe risk modeling firm RMS said on its website. “This threshold continues to decrease from previous guidance, reflecting the increasing probability of a predominantly offshore storm track.”

As of 2 a.m. Monday, Irma had top winds of 85 miles (135 kilometers) per hour, weakening to a Category 1 storm, and was about 25 miles northeast of Tampa, the National Hurricane Center said. Rescue personnel in the city were sheltering Sunday night until the winds died down. Irma is expected to weaken to a tropical storm over northern Florida or southern Georgia late Monday and Tuesday, the center said.

“Even if it drops to 105, those gusts can be terribly, terribly life threatening,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “When the high tide meets the surge, we’re going to have flooding issues.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it sent seven National Disaster Medical System teams, including community doctors and nurses, and two teams from the Public Health Service to Florida.

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