Wilbur Ross: Hurricane Florence Won't 'Move the Needle' on US Economy

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross predicts that Hurricane Florence won’t be devastating to the overall U.S. economy despite any financial damage to the Carolinas.

“Overall, it’s not going to move the national economy,” Ross said Thursday while touring the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “We have an $18 trillion economy, so one percent of $18 trillion would be $180 billion. That’s a pretty big number,” Ross said.

Hurricane Florence crashed into the Carolinas on Friday with 90-mph (144 kph) winds, torrential rains and a powerful storm surge before slowing to a pace that meant it would plague the area with days of flooding, Reuters reported.

The total bill for damage from Florence could eventually reach $10 billion to $20 billion, said Chuck Watson, a disaster researcher at Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia.

Hundreds of thousands of people have evacuated the coast, more than 1,500 U.S. flights have been canceled, factories have been shut and farmers have rushed to save livestock and crops from the storm’s wrath, Bloomberg reported.

Meanwhile, Ross said the massive storm could have “a lot of implications” for some vulnerable sectors of the economy, including shipping and agriculture.

“Now, since we import more than we export, probably that’ll be a little bit of a help to the economy,” Ross said. “But, it will slow down shipping.”

On the forecast track, the center of Florence is expected to move inland across the extremes of southeastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina Friday and Saturday. It will then go northward across the western Carolinas and the central Appalachian Mountains early next week.

North Carolina is the largest tobacco grower and ranks second among U.S. states in hog inventory and producing broiler chickens. CoBank ACB, an agricultural lender, estimates damage to North Carolina farming could hit $1 billion before the storm slows.

Along with agriculture, the Carolinas stand as an important regional hub for banking, technology, manufacturing and transportation, accounting for about 4 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, according to a Bloomberg U.S. economic analysis. The path may affect more than 4,000 manufacturing and distribution facilities, potentially hurting sectors including auto-parts and packaged foods, according to Bloomberg Supply Chain data.

"This is not the end of it. Twenty-four to 36 hours remain of a significant threat,” Jeff Byard, FEMA’s Associate Administrator for the Office of Response and Recovery, said Friday. "I hope people bought flood insurance because you are going to need it for this event."


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