In soaked California, few homeowners have flood insurance

ACAMPO, Calif. (AP) — Kyle Starks was awakened Sunday morning by flood waters that reached the door of his jeep after yet another heavy rainstorm hit California. and the other residents of his rural mobile home park in Acampo floated to safety.

Beyond physical destruction, storms can have an economic impact.Starks does not carry flood insurance.

“I didn’t expect it to be so flooded,” explained the evacuation center.

In California, only about 230,000 homes and other buildings have flood insurance separate from homeowners insurance. That means only about 2% of properties are protected from flooding. The federal government is the majority insurer of about 191,000 as of December. The rest were issued by private insurers, according to the latest state data for 2021.

California has received 32 trillion gallons of rain and snow since Christmas. The water washed away roads, robbed power, and soaked hills charred by wildfires, causing landslides. Damage occurred in 41 of his 58 counties in the state. At least 21 people have died.

Targeted research is needed to know the role of climate change in specific weather, but warmer air means storms like the ones that have hit California in recent weeks will carry more water. It means you can.

But California’s drought has dulled people’s sense of the danger of flooding. According to Amy Bach, executive director of insurance consumer group United Policyholder, people typically buy insurance after a disaster, which means the risk is visceral.

“People think that the only people who need flood insurance are those who live on beaches or along rivers that have a history of flooding,” Bach said. The reality is that far more people are threatened by rapids and rising water.

An important document when buying a home is an official Federal Emergency Management Agency map that indicates whether the home is in a high-risk flood zone. Yes, and if you have a federally backed mortgage, you should purchase flood insurance, which costs an average of $950 a year. Many banks also need it.

However, FEMA maps are limited and only consider certain types of floods, so they cannot really predict flood risk. For example, floods caused by heavy rains backing up storm drains are not counted. This restriction means that flood risk is underestimated nationwide. According to Matthew Eby, executive director of the First Street Foundation, a risk analysis organization, the map is making disasters less likely, especially in California.

FEMA maps do not show Stark mobile homes in high-risk areas. Three years before his neighbor Juan Reyes bought his house, a series of storms brought record amounts of rain to the state and flooded the neighborhood.

Reyes knew this, but still had no flood insurance. He said it was too expensive and he didn’t need it. In addition, he believed that local officials had improved the storm drainage system to prevent similar floods from happening again. However, it was successful and Reyes also had to be rescued by boat. He is staying at the same evacuation center, hoping that his home will not suffer much damage.

Storms have devastated thousands of homes that need repairs before they can be rehabilitated. But Nicholas Pinter, a professor of watershed research at the University of California, Davis, said California needs to prepare for an even bigger event, which requires investment in flood protection and increased awareness of the dangers. says.

“It is worrisome that the damage was as much as the extreme floods, though not catastrophic,” he said.

State officials said they were trying to help people file insurance claims even without flood coverage.

And David Enero of Merced, a community of about 90,000 in California’s Central Valley, is trying to figure out how to recover. The water in his house was up to his ankles. The laminate floor in his living room floated.

“It was like walking on waves and trampolines,” he said. The house smells like a mix of mold, rotten hay, and rotting system overflow.

Enero lives in a high risk area where people must have flood insurance. He says he can’t imagine trying to pay for the damages on his own. In retrospect, he wishes he had insured his belongings as well.

Maps force Enero and others to buy coverage in certain areas, but FEMA no longer uses famous maps to set prices.

The agency will update its pricing in 2021 to more accurately reflect risk, dubbed Risk Rating 2.0. FEMA says these revised prices, not flood maps, are what inform consumers of flood risk. The old system focused on simple metrics: a house’s elevation and whether it was in a mapped flood zone. A risk rating of 2.0 takes into account distance to water, damage from heavy rains, and many other factors. We will increase rates for about three-quarters of our policyholders, and for the first time, we will reduce them.

FEMA has long said the new ratings will reveal the true risks of real estate and attract new policyholders at more accurate prices. However, the number of policies has dropped by about 5% since it went into effect in California, and continues to decline nationwide for several years.

Some people are unaware of their risks.

One of Reyes’ neighbors, Jay Laub, was also rescued from the flood. He said he thought his house was flooded. He learned this week that’s not the case.

Raub said he feared the mobile home had sunk into the waterlogged ground. He said he didn’t know how to pay for it.

“What’s your occupation? You’re on Social Security like I am,” he said. “But what do you know? He takes one step at a time. You have no choice but to stay strong.”

Trevor Burgess, chief executive of Neptune, a private insurer, said the storms are driving new policies. In his first ten days of 2022, the company has sold his 53 cars in California. This year, Neptune sold 313. This is an increase of about 500%.

“Storms are both a human tragedy and a property tragedy, but they have the effect of reminding people that they are vulnerable and need to protect themselves,” Burgess said.


Phyllis reported from St. Louis.


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