Reuters) - Hurricane Sandy appears to have easily caused twice or even three times the losses of last year's Hurricane Irene, but final totals will be hard to come by for some time because of the scale of the disaster, catastrophe forecasting companies said on Tuesday.
One of the biggest questions now is who will pay for the extensive damage to municipal infrastructure -- subway tunnels, train tracks, electrical transformers, coastal boardwalks and piers -- that Sandy left behind along the East Coast.
The short answer, experts say, is that there may be some insurance in place for certain losses, but beyond that taxpayers could well end up on the hook for most of it.
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.. and has impacted NYC to a much worse degree than Irene," RMS said in a storm report early Tuesday.
State Farm, the largest home and auto insurer in the United States, said late Tuesday it has already received more than 6,000 homeowners' insurance claims and nearly 900 auto insurance claims for Sandy.
By comparison, in the 24 hours after Hurricane Isaac hit Louisiana in August, the company reported just 1,100 claims from that storm.
For homeowners who suffered damage in the storm, on the surface the claims process might seem straightforward. Wind damage goes to their homeowners' insurer. Flood damage goes to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency's National Flood Insurance Program.
Lawyers say it's not that simple. Particularly in cases where a house is partly or entirely destroyed, it can be difficult to tell what happened, and more importantly in what sequence. Litigation on those issues after Hurricane Katrina took years.
"I think people will be challenged to come up with how the events unfolded and what percentage of loss was from one versus the other," said Mike Nelson, chairman of the insurance-focused law firm of Nelson Levine de Luca & Hamilton.
In one extreme case Nelson handled, where a house was totally obliterated, lawyers were reduced to arguing that flood waters were responsible because there was flood debris on top of a tree that was taller than the house had been.
Such disputes pale next to the problem of insuring the enormous New York City infrastructure.
Consolidated Edison said Tuesday its 337,000 Manhattan and Brooklyn customers without power could be in the dark for four days, an eternity by the city's standards....