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Frances' cost tops $4-billion

Hurricane Frances is expected to rank as the fourth most expensive hurricane in U.S. history, causing insured wind damage of $4.1-billion, according to an industry report released Thursday.

Property Claims Services, a group that gives the formal industry estimate of insured payments from catastrophic events, expects that 500,000 of the estimated 552,000 Frances claims will be in Florida.

Hurricane Charley, the second most expensive hurricane on record behind 1992's Hurricane Andrew, struck Aug. 13. It caused an estimated $6.8-billion in damage with more than 600,000 claims filed. The third worst storm was Hurricane Hugo, which caused $4.2-billion in insured damage in 1989 (or roughly $6.2-billion in today's dollars).

The industry is still grappling with the devastation caused by Hurricane Ivan, which struck the Pensacola area a week ago. Early estimates placed insured wind damage loss between $3-billion and $5-billion.

If correct, that would mean in a five-week span this summer, Florida was hit by three of the five most costly hurricanes in U.S. history.

And those figures do not even include flood damage and storm surge damage, since that is covered by a separate federal program, the National Flood Insurance Program. Flooding damage from both Frances and Ivan will probably double the total damage number for each storm, said Bob Hartwig, chief economist with the Insurance Information Institute. Much of the flooding damage occurred outside Florida.

As a result, Florida insurers already are in uncharted territory as they face the prospect of yet another storm, Hurricane Jeanne, threatening Florida's east coast as soon as this weekend.

Among Charley, Frances and Ivan, "we're looking at around 1.5-million claims. This is unprecedented," Hartwig said, "and Jeanne, if it does hit Florida, will add to that."

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