According to a new study, a staggering three million Americans were displaced due to natural disasters over the past year, a statistic that reflects the relentless onslaught of hurricanes, storms, wildfires, and other calamities that have plagued parts of the U.S.
According to the data, 33% of Americans who were compelled to leave their residences thanks to natural disasters returned home within a week. Additionally, 31% managed to return within a month, while 19% found their way back within six months to a year.
But perhaps most alarming is that about 530,000 individuals, or 18% of the total displaced population, remain unable to return to their homes.
The study, by HireAHelper, a leading relocation services platform, delves into Census Bureau data to unveil the impact of natural disasters on American lives. The study sheds light on the number of disaster-induced relocations, popular relocation destinations, and the primary disasters responsible for uprooting families from their homes.
One trend that emerges is the extent to which people are forced to relocate across state lines. A full 25% of all disaster-induced moves involved individuals and families journeying to new states, reshaping not only local communities but also the demographic landscape of entire states.
Insurers note that multifamily owners and condominium associations are not required by law to find tenants alternate housing after an event that leaves their property uninhabitable.
“In a multifamily community, the lease would have to expressly state the landlord’s responsibility to secure alternative accommodations and would define terms if there were any protections,” said Dustin Blodgett, vice president at Insurance Office of America. “Many landlords will try to fill vacant units with displaced tenants, but that is not always an option.”
Wildfires particularly potent
Not surprisingly, hurricanes and storms were the primary culprits behind 51% of all disaster-related moves in the tumultuous 2022 forcing countless individuals to seek safer ground and sparking a debate about how to deal with climate change.
Fires, on the other hand, emerge as a particularly devastating disaster, often resulting in long-term or permanent displacement.
The study shows that a staggering 45% of those displaced by fires in 2023 have yet to return to their homes. This highlights the arduous journey that victims of fires face in rebuilding their lives and finding stable housing solutions.
“The number one thing insurers can do to help educate their tenants on potential exposure around displacement is to include these costs in their lease and be realistic about the amount of money they would need in a disaster on their loss of use endorsement,” Blodgett said.
For condominium and single-family homeowners, coverage for displacement would be found in the loss of use section of their personal insurance policy, Blodgett said.
“The biggest problem with the loss of use endorsement is, with rapidly rising rents and extended repair times, the limits on these policies are many times insufficient,” he added.
Louisiana stands out as one of the most most severely affected by disaster-induced displacement. About 7.5% of residents there have been forced to flee their homes due to cataclysmic events in the past year, equating to one in every 13 individuals. The data underscore the ongoing struggle in Louisiana, where communities are still recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Laura in 2020 and Hurricane Ida in 2021.
Don’t forget Florida
Florida follows closely behind, with 5.6% of its residents experiencing displacement in the past year, largely attributed to the impact of Hurricane Ian, one of the most destructive hurricanes in U.S. history. Ongoing natural disasters in Florida continues to destabilize its property insurance markets.
Other states with significant percentages of displaced residents include Kentucky (2.6%), Alaska (2.5%), Michigan (2.2%), and New Mexico (2%).
The study reveals patterns of destinations for those displaced by natural disasters. Texas emerges as the most common destination for disaster-induced moves, with 37% of interstate moves driven by disastrous events leading to Texas. Moreover, the Lone Star State exhibits the highest number of disaster refugees relative to its population, with 58 displaced individuals per 10,000 residents.
Tennessee and Mississippi follow suit, with ratios of 51 and 48 disaster refugees per 10,000 local residents, respectively. Other states such as Missouri, Wisconsin, and Michigan also play a significant role in accommodating displaced Americans.
While the number of disaster-induced moves hasn’t reached the magnitude of events like Hurricane Katrina, according to the data, there have been spikes of displacement exceeding 100,000 individuals. Events such as Hurricane Ike in 2008, Hurricane Florence in 2018, and the California wildfires of 2019 have triggered substantial relocations.
Doug Bailey is a journalist and freelance writer who lives outside of Boston. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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