Thousands file for flood insurance

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, September 5, 2012

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Thousands of flood insurance claims are being filed in the wake of Hurricane Isaac, a slow-moving storm that hammered several parishes in southern Louisiana with prolonged, drenching rains and tropical-storm force winds, leaving water damage in parishes that don’t typically experience flooding, officials said Tuesday.

Commissioner of Insurance James Donelon said three parishes — St. Tammany, Plaquemines and St. John the Baptist — experienced an unusual amount of flooding. He said only 31 percent of Louisiana residents have flood insurance. The storm straddled the region for days last week, swamping homes with water up to four feet deep in some areas.

Donelon has issued an emergency rule to prevent late fees, penalties, cancellations or non-renewals on insurance policies from hitting policyholders affected by Hurricane Isaac. The emergency order also allows residents with health insurance coverage to qualify for out-of-network medical care if they are stranded in places away from their usual providers.

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Flood damage is not covered by standard homeowners and renters insurance policies, but coverage is available as a separate policy under a federal program, the National Flood Insurance Program. The cost of flood insurance is set by federal officials and varies from location to location. Officials say flooding is the most expensive and most common natural disaster.

Early estimates indicate at least 13,000 homes were damaged by Isaac.

Gary Stephenson, a spokesman for State Farm Insurance Cos., said the insurance company had received 16,780 claims from Mississippi and Louisiana by late Monday. Over 15,000 of those claims came from Louisiana, and almost 12,000 of those were homeowners or business property claims.

“Most of those property claims were roof damage. It may have been wind blowing and tearing shingles off the roof, or debris hitting the roof. A number of cases are from where trees or large limbs fell on the house,” he said.

Over 3,000 were automobile claims, Stephenson said, and a large number of those were non-drivables, meaning the vehicle was rendered totally inoperable during the storm.

He said several people without flood insurance approached the company at mobile claims sites in LaPlace, a city in St. John the Baptist Parish especially hard hit during the storm.

“That’s very sad to see when that happens because it’s devastating when part of the apartment you’re renting or the home you have takes on water …,” Stephenson said.

He said State Farm is the largest insurer in Louisiana and Mississippi, for help with water damage.

Out of 17,000 homes in St. John the Baptist, a little over 6,000 residents, or 35 percent, had flood insurance policies.

Carl Watts, a Region 6 liaison for FEMA, said disaster assistance is available for people who don’t have flood insurance through a loan program administered by the Small Business Administration. Grants can be used to help pay for temporary housing and emergency home repairs or for disaster-related expenses not covered by insurance. Nearly 95,000 people have signed for individual aid from FEMA, according to numbers provided by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office.

Watts said it will be at least two months before they know how many claims were filed in the state after Isaac.

Officials said 310 communities, including parishes and individual cities, qualify for the federal flood assistance program within Louisiana. Twenty-five communities, including the village of Sun in St. Tammany Parish, are not in the flood program and all 25 have some sort of flood plain within the area.

Donelon also warned Louisiana residents to be wary of storm-related deductibles that might pop up on their insurance policies. He said deductibles were unusual before Hurricane Katrina devastated the state in 2005 and became the costliest hurricane in state history. Most deductibles can run between 2 to 15 percent of the total damage caused by a storm and homeowners could have to pay thousands out of pocket if the cost of hurricane-related damage is less than their hurricane deductible.

“Folks are shocked, I refer to it as ‘sticker shock’ in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav when they learned they had such a large deductible and therefore had to come out of pocket for the first $5,000, $7,000, maybe even $10,000 of repair,” Donelon said.

Katrina cost nearly $25.4 billion in insured losses in the state, a figure that doesn’t include flood damage, according to data from the Insurance Information Institute, a nonprofit consumer education organization. Early estimates from AIR Worldwide, which models losses for insurers, said Isaac could cost insurers $1.2 billion.