Tourism, agriculture businesses brace for impact of Irma

Associated Press

After knocking down parts of the vital tourism industry in the Caribbean, Hurricane Irma is spinning toward Florida, another vacation haven.

Tourism accounts for 1.4 million jobs in the Sunshine State, where more than 112 million people visited last year and spent $109 billion. Resorts and hotels there could suffer instant destruction from Irma’s winds or lingering damage if vacationers stay away.

Roads and airports will need to be repaired or even rebuilt, and it’s uncertain whether that can be done in time for the winter high season on the hardest-hit islands. Wealthier islands with more private insurance will fare better, said Gabriel Torres, an analyst for Moody’s Investors Service who has studied the effect of storms in the Caribbean.

Here is a snapshot of Irma’s likely effects on other key industries:

Airlines: More than 4,600 flights in the storm’s path have been canceled, including flights this weekend in Florida, and the number is expected to soar, according to tracking service

That means more lost revenue for the airlines, which canceled about 11,000 flights when flooding from Hurricane Harvey shut down both main Houston airports for several days.

Autos: Irma won’t damage as many cars and trucks as Harvey did, but the toll is still expected to be extensive, according to analysts from Cox Automotive, which publishes Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader.

Cox said 130,000 to 200,000 vehicles will be lost in Miami, West Palm Beach and Fort Myers-Naples in south Florida. By comparison, 300,000 to 500,000 vehicles were damaged in the Houston area.

Insurance: The industry is in good financial shape because insurers haven’t had to pay out for mammoth losses like back-to-back hurricanes in over a decade, analysts say. But they are wary of Irma’s predicted path, which would mean landfall in the densely populated area from Miami to Fort Lauderdale.

Agriculture: Irma could be a devastating blow to a Florida citrus industry that is already reeling from a decade-long infestation of citrus greening disease, which leads to fewer and bitter-tasting fruit.

If the storm’s path takes it through the center of the state the citrus-growing region it could rip oranges and grapefruit from their branches or even uproot trees, said Lisa Lochridge, spokeswoman for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association.

Oil and gas: One-third or more of service stations were out of gas in several Florida cities including Miami, West Palm Beach, Fort Myers and Tampa, according to GasBuddy.

Compared with Hurricane Harvey, which knocked out refineries and caused the nationwide average price of gasoline to jump about 30 cents a gallon, Irma is less likely to have such a quick and obvious effect on Americans beyond the storm’s path.

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