Many Hur­ri­cane Matthew vic­tims don’t have flood in­sur­ance

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - BUSINESS - By Kelli Kennedy and Russ Bynum

POOLER, GA. >> Waist-deep flood­wa­ters from Hur­ri­cane Matthew coursed down the street and seeped un­der Lori Gale­more’s doors, swamp­ing the car­pets and fur­ni­ture as she and her three sons re­treated up­stairs, where they stayed un­til fire­fight­ers ar­rived by boat.

Gale­more and her neigh­bors in Pooler, a com­mu­nity about 35 miles in­land from the evac­u­ated Ge­or­gia coast, were del­uged not by sea­wa­ter driven ashore by the hur­ri­cane, but by rain and runoff that over­whelmed a drainage ditch at the end of their cul-de-sac.

“Every­body said, ‘You’re not in a flood plain. You don’t need flood in­sur­ance,’” Gale­more re­called Wed­nes­day as her hus­band and sons threw out soggy fur­ni­ture, wa­ter­logged books, tow­els and blan­kets and wet chunks of dry­wall. “And flood in­sur­ance is ex­pen­sive. Who wants to pay that?”

Gale­more’s story is all too com­mon. Many Amer­i­cans don’t have flood in­sur­ance, some be­cause they don’t want to pay for it, some be­cause they don’t see the need for it.

Even in high-risk flood zones where homes are re­quired to have such cov­er­age, the com­pli­ance rate na­tion­ally was only 53 per­cent as of 2015, ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment’s Na­tional Flood In­sur­ance Pro­gram.

In­dus­try of­fi­cials say it is a trou­bling sit­u­a­tion, es­pe­cially since the risk of flood­ing ap­pears to be on the rise.

“We seem to be hav­ing more and more flood­ing events, be it cli­mate change or other things. We’re see­ing ar­eas that are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing flood­ing events that may not have ex­pe­ri­enced them in the past,” said Cyn­thia DiVin­centi, a vice pres­i­dent at Aon Na­tional Flood Ser­vices.

Or­di­nary home­owner in­sur­ance typ­i­cally cov­ers wind damage — tornoff roofs, fallen trees — but not flood­ing. Banks re­quire homes in high-risk flood zones to buy flood in­sur­ance, but even then the per­cent­age of prop­er­ties that are cov­ered is well short of 100 per­cent. It was 57 per­cent in Florida, 72 per­cent in South Carolina and 81 per­cent in Louisiana, the Na­tional Flood In­sur­ance Pro­gram re­ported.

Worse, lots of flood­ing takes place out­side those des­ig­nated hazard ar­eas. That was the case when heavy storms flooded parts of South Carolina last year and an un­named storm re­cently in­un­dated the Ba­ton Rouge, Louisiana, area. The damage in Ba­ton Rouge was put at $660 mil­lion, and most peo­ple there had no flood in­sur­ance.

“Flood­ing is the most com­mon and costly dis­as­ter we see in the United States,” said Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency spokesman Rafael Le­maitre. Flood claims have av­er­aged more than $1.9 bil­lion per year since 2006, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral of­fi­cials.

Flood in­sur­ance in lowto mod­er­ate-risk ar­eas av­er­ages $400 to $600 a year, ac­cord­ing to FEMA. FEMA, through the Na­tional Flood In­sur­ance Pro­gram, of­fers flood in­sur­ance be­cause it’s gen­er­ally not prof­itable for pri­vate in­sur­ers to sell it.

Matthew sideswiped Florida and Ge­or­gia last week be­fore blow­ing ashore briefly in South Carolina and un­load­ing more than a foot of rain on North Carolina, where it trig­gered dis­as­trous flood­ing. The U.S. death toll is well over 30.

Wal­ter Coker’s fish camp on the Matan­zas River in Cres­cent Beach, Florida, was in­un­dated. The 4-foot surge de­stroyed a ware­house on the prop­erty where he stores fur­ni­ture im­ported from In­done­sia. The boat slips he rents out were torn apart, with the huge wooden pil­ings used to hold the docks jerked out of the river bot­tom. Flood­wa­ters in­un­dated his bait and tackle shop, ruin­ing the cool­ers that hold bait and beer.

Coker didn’t have flood in­sur­ance.

“I did look into it. It would’ve been very ex­pen­sive,” he said. “It’s one of those things you don’t buy it on some­thing you don’t think will hap­pen.”


Wal­ter Coker sur­veys the damage in his fur­ni­ture stor­age shed in Cres­cent Beach, Fla. Coker runs Ge­nung’s Fish Camp and Ma­rina on the shore of the Matan­zas River, and saw storm surge from Hur­ri­cane Matthew run “like a river” through his prop­erty, tear­ing apart the stor­age shed and the tackle shop.

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