Floods are coming- FEMA urges homeowners to buy insurance

Floods are coming- FEMA urges homeowners to buy insurance

Even if not living near a body of water, such as the Pacific Ocean or rivers and creeks, FEMA officials warn that the El Nino build up could cause severe storm conditions this winter.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is urging California residents to by flood insurance. Even if not living near a body of water, such as the Pacific Ocean or rivers and creeks, FEMA officials warn that the El Nino build up could cause severe storm conditions this winter.

For people living in ‘high hazard’ flood zones, it is a regular of requirment of a mortgage loan for the homeowners to purchase insurance. Yet these rules have not been widely enforced. Moreover, many living in the areas FEMA deem high-risk are renters or citizens who have finished paying off their mortgage already. Today, only about 30 to 50 percent of high risk homes have the proper flood insurance.

“We encourage everyone to take the threat seriously,” said Roy Wright, a deputy associate administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington, D.C. “If there ever was a time to buy flood insurance, this is that time.”

Homeowner’s insurance typically covers damage caused by storms – such as a tree falling on your pool – but do not explicitly cover flooding. FEMA officials warn that even if you do not live near a ordinary flood zone, heavy rains can still cause drains to overflow or water to run down hillsides. Flooding can do major damage to a wide area.

“People always say ‘I never thought this would happen to me,’” said Nancy Kincaid, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Insurance. “But if it does, are you prepared to recover without insurance? It can be thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

It may be hard for California residents to worry about potential floods while deep in the midst of a four-year long draught. It has been nearly 20 years since the state saw heavy winter rains; many residents have forgotten the catastrophes such weather events can cause.

However, the history of California speaks volumes. Nearly 40 percent of all flood insurance claims have come during two winters: 1982-83 and 1997-98. Both of these seasons saw heavy rains as a the result of strong El Nino conditions. In both instances, residents saw punishing rainfall that brought about not only flooding but also mudslides and widespread storm destruction.

Flood insurance is not that expensive. For high-risk homes, it can cost around $1000 a year; insurance for less at-risk homes costs from $140 to $500 a year. Damages caused by a severe winter easily dwarf such a small fee.

“That is often within someone’s reach in terms of the kind of investment they can make to buy down their risk,” said Wright. “Even if you buy that policy for only one year, this is the year to buy it.”

“I don’t think it’s a one-size-fits-all, but this is a wake-up call,” said Jamie Court, a consumer advocate and president of Consumer Watchdog in Santa Monica. “People do have to re-evaluate their insurance coverage. This won’t affect me because I live on top of a hill with good drainage. I’m very unlikely to sustain flood damage. But on the other hand, people who aren’t in flood zones could flood if they are at the bottom of a hill or close to a storm drain.”

In addition to checking insurance policies, FEMA is encouraging homeowners to thoroughly examine their roofs for leaks, caulk drafty windows and doors, and trim any dead or precarious looking tree branches. California residents should prepare emergency kits that include flashlights, battery-powered radios, bottles of water, and other provisions. Finally, important documents as well as video or photographic evidence of the possessions in each room of the house should be stored safety outside of the home – ideally in the Internet cloud.

A new flood insurance policy takes 30 days to go into effect. Weather forecasters predict that the storms will hit hardest in January, February, and March.

“Now is the time to do it. Once we get into the rains, it becomes much more difficult to act after the fact,” said Ken Katz, national property risk control director at Travelers Insurance. “Do it now. Take it seriously.”

FEMA has posted its flood risk maps and tips to reduce flood risk at www.floodsmart.gov.

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