WASHINGTON -- Airlines canceled thousands of flights and stranded travelers. Insurers braced for damages of up to $5 billion. Retailers expected shrunken sales.
Hurricane Sandy is causing disruptions for companies, travelers and consumers. But for the overall economy, damage from the storm will likely be limited. And any economic growth lost to the storm in the short run will likely be restored once reconstruction begins, analysts say.
Preliminary estimates are that damage will range between $10 billion and $20 billion. That could top last year's Hurricane Irene, which cost $15.8 billion.
If so, Hurricane Sandy would be among the 10 most costly hurricanes in U.S. history. But it would still be far below the worst -- Hurricane Katrina, which cost $108 billion and caused 1,200 deaths in 2005.
"Assuming the storm simply disrupts things for a few days and it doesn't do significant damage to infrastructure, then I don't think it will have a significant national impact," Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, said Monday.
The economic impact could be more severe if the storm damages a port or a major manufacturing facility such as an oil refinery, Zandi noted.
Here's how the storm has begun to affect key areas of the economy:
Flights in the Northeast are all but stopped for at least two days. Airlines canceled more than 10,000 flights for Monday and today from Washington to Boston. The disruptions spread across the nation and overseas, stranding passengers from Hong Kong to Europe.
Airline cancellations have already surpassed those from Hurricane Irene last year and are on par with those from the snowstorm that pounded the East Coast early last year. The Airports Council International, a trade group, said that even if the storm damage turns out to be minor, it could be a week before operations are back to normal at major East Coast airports.
Eric Danielson was trying to fly Monday from San Francisco to Norfolk, Va., to start a new job.
"It was supposed to be only a two-hour layover here in Atlanta, Ga., and now it's beginning to be a 28-hour layover until tomorrow, Danielson said.
Wall Street analysts expect carriers such as JetBlue, United and Delta to suffer a short-term hit to earnings as they spend money to shuffle crews and planes away from and then back to the East Coast.
The nation's big stores are expected to lose billions, and the losses could extend into the crucial holiday shopping season. Sales at department stores, clothing chains, jewelers and other sellers of non-essential goods are expected to suffer the most.
The industry is entering the holiday season, when many retailers collect up to 40 percent of annual revenue. Retailers, excluding restaurants, could lose at least $25 billion in sales this week, estimates Burt Flickinger III of retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group.
Even home improvement chains and grocers that will benefit from shoppers stocking up on emergency supplies before the hurricane and cleaning and repair items afterward could lose sales in the long run if overstretched consumers feel they must scale back.
"If you're spending $400 on a generator, that could hurt discretionary purchases," said Brian Sozzi, chief equities analyst at NBG Productions.
Flickinger now estimates that holiday sales in November and December will rise 2.1 percent over last year instead of the 3.2 percent he had originally predicted.