Updated: April 2023. The original CBS News video with Henk Ovink was moved to Paramount+ where only subscribers can view it, so another similar video has been embedded below.
“Why didn’t they have flood insurance?”
We’ve heard this question a lot since Hurricane Florence hit and caused flooding in many homes across New Hanover, Brunswick, and Pender Counties. It seems like simple question with a simple answer when you’re standing on the outside looking in. We live in a coastal area, why wouldn’t flood insurance be automatically included in a homeowner’s toolbox?
Answer: Multiple reasons.
Before we address the specific reasons, people need to understand that the flooding was caused be a rare slow-moving storm that dropped over 8 trillion gallons of rain in a previously rain-saturated area. Weeks before Hurricane Florence, we were already breaking the annual rainfall record. It was the perfect mix for a disaster, and the reason why it has been referred to as a 500-year and 1,000-year flood.
So, here are some reasons why many homeowners did not have flood insurance:
- Many homes that flooded were not in a flood zone that required insurance. Usually, homes in high-risk flood zones are required by the mortgage lender to have flood insurance. Those outside of high-risk zones can purchase flood insurance, but the flood zone maps imply that low-risk areas don’t really need it. The chances of the home being flooded are very low, so why pay for something that likely won’t happen?That false hope is what keeps people from buying flood insurance. What they don’t realize is that 20%-25% of flooding happens in low-risk and moderate-risk areas in North Carolina. Just 1” of water inside a building can cause $27,000 worth of damage.
- Flood insurance can be costly. The amount a homeowner pays per year depends on the size of the home and the flood zone it’s in. So, obviously, a home on the beach or river is going to be much more expensive than an inland home. Still, the average cost of flood insurance in the U.S. is $707 per year. In North Carolina specifically, it’s about $340 per year for a $100,000 house.Some may argue that if you can afford waterfront property, you can afford flood insurance, but those aren’t the people who don’t usually have flood insurance. It’s the average person living in a low-risk flood zone whose pocket would take a huge hit to pay for coverage.
- Flood zones are based in the past. When the floodplain maps are created, they’re generated from the results of past hurricanes, tropical storms, and other significant events. They don’t consider climate change or rising water levels, because it’s all speculation. For all they know, water levels could go up and come back down. So, scientists and engineers do their best to make an educated guess based on facts, not what may be.
- The United States is wired for recovery and rebuilding, not prevention, i.e. “We’ll deal with it if it happens.” Dawn Zimmer was the mayor of Hoboken, NJ, when Hurricane Sandy hit and flooded the city. She fought to rebuild in new ways that would help prevent the flooding from happening again. She faced a lot of resistance from those who didn’t want government money going toward flood prevention, because it might hurt their property values. The project was eventually approved, but it’s a good example of the nation’s majority mindset.That project in Hoboken utilizes Dutch technology. The Netherlands is one of the most flood-prone places in the world, but the Dutch don’t bother with flood insurance. They don’t need to. Their preventive science makes it so they don’t flood. It’s something the U.S. Government should seriously consider.
As our area recovers and displaced homeowners deal with the stress and heartache of what they’ve lost, we will all be forced to consider what our community must do to prevent this amount of loss in the future. Insurance companies will tell you that nothing sells flood insurance better than a flood, but when time passes without a natural disaster, people tend to forget how bad it was. They cancel extra precautions like flood insurance to save money. But looking at all the older communities that have never flooded yet took on water during the aftermath of Hurricane Florence – clearly, the past doesn’t always predict the future.
Did Hurricane Florence or another past natural disaster change your view on flood insurance?