JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Though the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season officially ended Friday, the impact of the season's strongest storms will be felt for years to come.
Weeks after Hurricane Michael made landfall in the Florida Panhandle, the death toll continues to grow. Currently, it's believed that 43 people died in the storm with many of those deaths reported in Bay County, which is widely considered the epicenter of the hurricane's devastation.
Across the Panhandle, more than 125,000 hurricane-related insurance claims have been filed with total estimated insured losses reaching $3.43 billion. That's compared to 2017's Hurricane Irma which resulted in more than 1 million claims and $11 billion in estimated insured losses.
To put those figures in perspective, hurricanes Matthew and Hermine in 2016 were responsible for nearly 130,000 claims with losses estimated at $1.3 billion. While Matthew did not make landfall in Florida, it caused damage as it churned up the East Coast, while Hermine hit the Big Bend region.
State Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said he's calling for the insurance industry to "step up" and assist homeowners and businesses caught in the storm's path by eliminating any unnecessary barriers that stand in the way of them getting help.
"I have also deployed fraud detectives to educate and assist in fraud prevention," said Patronis. "We must work together to do all we can to rebuild homes quickly and ensure we keep the Panhandle open for business."
Despite extensive recovery efforts, parts of Northwest Florida remain in ruins. For instance, there are lingering concerns about the fate of Tyndall Air Force Base, which suffered significant damage when the Category 4 hurricane swept through.
"Panama City, Callaway, Springfield, Mexico Beach -- there's still heavy destruction that's there. Debris removal has been taking place literally around the clock, but the recovery will be there for a number of years," said Patronis.