Many Hurricane Matthew victims don't have flood insurance

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 said 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 -- torn-off 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, 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," Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Rafael Lemaitre said. Flood claims have averaged more than $1.9 billion per year since 2006, according to federal officials.

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