Insurance industry says Southeast ‘dodged a bullet,’ but residents in hard-hit areas still worry about rate hikes

In this photo made in a flight provided by, receding storm waters surround homes in a community near Keaton Beach, Fla., following the passage of Hurricane Idalia, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Rebecca Blackwell, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Saying the insurance industry “dodged a bullet,” a reinsurance firm Thursday estimated that Hurricane Idalia caused $3 billion to $5 billion in insured losses.

The firm, BMS, pointed to Idalia making landfall Wednesday in the Keaton Beach area of rural Taylor County before moving through other sparsely populated areas of North Florida.

“In reality, the insurance industry dodged a bullet as Idalia tracked over relatively rural areas with low population density,” an analysis posted on the BMS website said.

The update did not break down potential insured losses in Florida and other states. After moving through North Florida, Idalia went into Georgia and South Carolina.

While Idalia did not go through heavily populated areas, BMS said it showed potential far-reaching effects of future storms.

“The tidal flooding all the way down to Bradenton, FL reveals that the impacts from named storms can be far-reaching beyond the destructive center of the storm and the cone of uncertainty,” the analysis said. “This should be a warning call for what will happen when a major hurricane strikes the Tampa Bay area.”

According to Moody’s Analytics, overall, the storm caused up to $20 billion in damage, a fraction of the estimated $112.9 billion in damage caused by Hurricane Ian last year.

Jim and Sally Johnson, right, survey the damage at their Horseshoe Beach home. (Copyright 2023 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

Jim and Sally Johnson, who live in Horseshoe Beach said they lost their stairs, laundry room and air conditioner in the storm.

“The bottom of the floor is wet. So it was up to the bottom of the floor. That’s 10 feet, 9 and a half feet,” Jim Johnson said.

They’re thankful their home is still standing and said they made the right call to evacuate.

They know many of their neighbors have it much worse. Around 40 to 50 homes were either flattened or washed away.

As the community starts to clean up and rebuild, many are worried about insurance. The owners of one home said insurance would have cost them $700 a month, so they decided not to get it because it was too expensive.

“Trying to figure out if we’re going to clean it up, most people after the last storm just poured the foundation out here and had a travel trailer and septic tank to pull it out of here when it came,” said Mike Childers, who lost his home in Horseshoe Beach.

Half a mile down the road, the Johnsons do have insurance and they’re hoping the policy pays for their repairs. But even Jim Johnson, who used to run a small insurance agency, is unsure. Storm surge and flooding coverage can be a gray area, especially in hurricanes.

“I have fought insurance companies for the 27 years I was in it. Because I owned my own agency. I watched some of them cover stuff and some of them fight it to the death,” he said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state has money set aside for disaster relief and he’s also calling on the federal government to help. President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit the area this weekend, and that could bring more federal relief once he sees the damage firsthand.

About the Authors:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.