Lack of flood insurance leaves families with shattered homes after Hurricane Ian

NORTH PORT, Fla. (AP) — Christine Barrett was inside the family’s North Port home during Hurricane Ian when one of her children started screaming that water was coming from the shower.

Then it started coming from outside the house. Eventually the family were forced to climb on top of their kitchen cupboards – they put water wings on their one-year-old – and were rescued the next day by boat.

After the floodwaters came down, Barrett and her family were cleaning up the damp, muddy house. On the front lawn are chairs, a chest of drawers, couch cushions, floorboards, and a stack of wet drywall. Similar scenes played out across the block as residents tried to clean up the soggy mess before mold set in.

WATCH: Housing, food and power are still in short supply for many after Hurricane Ian

North Port is about 8 kilometers inland and the Barretts – like many of its residents – live in areas where flood insurance is not required and therefore do not have it. . Now many are wondering how they will be able to afford much-needed repairs.

“Nobody in this neighborhood has flood insurance because we’re a non-flood area,” she said. “But we have 14 inches of water in our house.”

Many people associate hurricanes with wind damage – downed power lines, torn shingles or roofing material, trees toppled in homes or windows smashed by flying objects, and Hurricane Ian’s winds of 150 mph (241 km/h) certainly caused considerable damage.

But hurricanes can also bring massive storm surge, as Ian did in places like Naples or Fort Myers Beach.

Heavy rains from hurricanes can also cause widespread flooding away from the beach. Ian dumped rain for hours as it streaked across the state, sending waterways spilling onto their shores and into homes and businesses far inland from where Ian made landfall. People were using kayaks to evacuate their flooded homes, and floodwaters in some areas still haven’t subsided a week after making landfall.

“It’s such a big storm, bringing so much water, that you’re basically experiencing what has been a 500-year flood,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said.

But flooding is not covered by a home insurance policy.

It must be purchased separately, usually from the federal government. Although most people have the option of purchasing flood insurance, it is only required for government-backed mortgages located in areas that the Federal Emergency Management Agency deems most at risk. risk. Many banks also require it in high-risk areas. But some homeowners who pay off their mortgage give up their flood insurance once it’s no longer needed.

Or if they buy a house or mobile home with cash, they may not opt ​​for it at all. And floods can and do happen outside of high-risk areas where flood insurance is required.

It has long been feared that not enough people have flood insurance, especially at a time when climate change is making hurricanes even stronger and storms in general wetter, slower and more likely to swell. rapidly intensify. According to the Insurance Information Institute, only about 4% of homeowners nationwide have flood insurance, although 90% of disasters in the United States involve flooding. In Florida, that number is only about 18%.

“We’ve experienced catastrophic flooding across the United States this year, including in Kentucky and Missouri, where virtually no one had flood insurance,” said the Institute’s Mark Friedlander.

Hurricane Ian caused extensive flooding in areas outside of high-risk areas. According to consulting firm Milliman, about 18.5% of homes in counties under evacuation orders had federally-issued flood insurance. In areas under evacuation orders that were outside of high-risk areas, 9.4% of households had a policy.

Last year, FEMA updated its flood insurance pricing system to more accurately reflect risk called Risk Rating 2.0. The old system took into account the elevation of a house and whether it was in a high-risk flood zone. The 2.0 risk rating looks at the risk of an individual property being flooded, taking into account factors such as its distance from the water. The new tariff system increases tariffs for around three-quarters of policyholders and offers price reductions for the first time.

FEMA has long said the new ratings will attract new policyholders. However, a FEMA report to the Treasury Secretary and a handful of congressional leaders last year said far fewer people would buy flood insurance as prices rose. Since the new rating system took effect in Florida, the number of fonts in the state has dropped by about 50,000 since August 2021.

After a federally declared disaster, homeowners with flood insurance are likely to receive more money, faster, to recover and rebuild than uninsured people.

After major floods in Louisiana in 2016, for example, the average payout to a flood insured was $86,500, according to FEMA. Uninsured homeowners could get individual assistance payments for needs like temporary housing and property damage, but they averaged around $9,150.

Congress sometimes provides additional aid after major disasters, although it may take months or even years.

“Unless you have flood insurance, the federal government won’t give you enough help to rebuild your home,” said Rob Moore, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s water and climate team.

In the North Port area that was being cleaned up by Ian, Ron Audette was unsure if he would get flood insurance in the future due to the cost. The retired US Navy sailor was cleaning his one-story house on a corner lot after floodwaters warped the laminate floor, swelled the wooden furniture and left the leather reclining sofa where he watched the Patriots games in a muddy, watery mess.

“I don’t think we could live here if we had to buy flood insurance,” he said.

But down the street, his neighbor Barrett definitely intended to get it.

“Get flood insurance even if it’s not necessary,” she advised. “Because we definitely will now.”

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