Hurricane Ian flooding leaves mess, insurance questions behind

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

Then he started to enter from outside the house. Eventually, the family was forced to climb over kitchen cabinets (they gave their 1-year-old son water wings) and were rescued the next day by boat.

After the flood waters finally receded, Barrett and her family were cleaning up the wet and muddy house. In the front yard were chairs, a dresser, couch cushions, floorboards, and a pile of damp drywall. Similar scenes played out across the block as residents tried to clean up the sodden mess before mold set in.

North Port is about 5 miles 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 pay for much-needed repairs.

“Nobody in this neighborhood has flood insurance because we’re an area that doesn’t flood,” he said. “But we have 14 inches of water in our house.”

Many people associate hurricanes with wind damage: downed power lines, ripped shingles or roofing materials, downed trees on homes, or broken windows by flying objects, and Hurricane Ian’s 150 mph winds undoubtedly caused damage. widespread.

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

Heavy rains from hurricanes can also cause widespread flooding far from the beach. Ian dumped rain for hours as it lumbered across the state, causing waterways to overflow and reach homes and businesses inland from where Ian made landfall. People were using kayaks to evacuate their flooded homes, and floodwaters in some areas have yet to recede a week after making landfall.

“This is such a big storm, it brought in so much water, that you’re basically having what has been a 500-year flood event,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said.

But flooding is not covered by a homeowner’s insurance policy.

Must be purchased separately, usually from the federal government. Although most people have the option of purchasing flood insurance, it is only required on government-backed mortgages that are in areas that the Federal Emergency Management Agency considers to be higher risk. Many banks also require it in high-risk areas. But some homeowners who pay off their mortgage cancel their flood insurance once it’s not required. Or if they buy a house or mobile home with cash, they may not opt ​​for it at all. And flooding can and does occur outside of high-risk areas where flood insurance is required.

There have long been concerns that not enough people have flood insurance, especially at a time when climate change is making strong hurricanes even stronger and storms in general wetter, slower, and more likely to escalate rapidly. According to the Insurance Information Institute, only about 4% of homeowners nationwide have flood insurance, even though 90% of catastrophes in the US involve flooding. In Florida, that number is only about 18%.

“We’ve experienced catastrophic flooding across the US 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 the high-risk areas. According to consulting firm Milliman, about 18.5% of households in counties that were under an evacuation order had federally issued flood insurance. In the areas with an evacuation order that were outside the high-risk areas, 9.4% of the homes had a policy.

Last year, FEMA updated its pricing system for flood insurance to more accurately reflect the risk called Hazard Rating 2.0. The old system considered the elevation of a house and whether it was in a high-risk flood zone. Risk Rating 2.0 looks at the risk of an individual property being flooded, considering factors such as its distance from water. The new pricing system raises rates for about three-quarters of policyholders and offers price reductions for the first time.

FEMA has long said the new ratings would 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 rise. Since the new rating system went into effect in Florida, the number of policies in the state has dropped by about 50,000 as of August 2021.

After a federally declared disaster, homeowners with flood insurance are likely to receive more money, more quickly, to recover and rebuild than those without insurance.

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

Congress sometimes provides additional help after major disasters, though that can take months or years to come.

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

In the North Port neighborhood Ian was cleaning up, Ron Audette was unsure about getting flood insurance in the future because of the cost. The retired U.S. Navy sailor was cleaning out his one-story home on a corner lot after flood waters bent the laminate flooring, swelled the wooden furniture and left the leather recliner where I watched Patriots games in a mess of water and mud.

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

But down the street, his neighbor Barrett was definitely planning on getting it.

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

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