FEMA official: July flooding highlights need for insurance

September 25, 2018

Two months have passed since the “1,000-year event” in July that left scores of Santa Fe residents digging out from a flash flood that deluged backyards, basements and homes.

Few claims have been filed seeking compensation for flood damage, even though the National Flood Insurance Program covers 478 policyholders in Santa Fe County. An official with the Federal Emergency Management Agency said the July 23 event is a reminder that any property owner along a flood zone should consider obtaining flood insurance.

“If you’re in a special hazard flood area, over the life of a 30-year mortgage there’s a 26 percent chance of [that property] flooding,” said John Miles, a FEMA flood plain management and insurance specialist in Texas. In addition, a third of claims to the flood insurance program come from property owners in minimal risk zones.

Even though Santa Fe is a high-desert community, flash floods occur with regularity and can surprise a homeowner who purchased property without considering the possibility of a flood. A narrow channel can become a roiling torrent overrunning its banks in minutes.

To participate in the flood insurance program, local governments must enact measures that restrict construction in flood-prone ares. In Santa Fe, three risk areas are well known: the Santa Fe River, the Arroyo Hondo and the Arroyo de los Chamisas. Those areas and the probability of flooding there are mapped by FEMA.

A look at the FEMA flood hazard map should be part of a homebuyer’s due diligence, Miles said. Those maps are available at www.floodsmart.com and by going to the FEMA Flood Map Service Center.

“If you’re buying a house, find out where the flood plain is and what the local water sources are,” he said.

The history of flooding in a particular neighborhood also is worth researching, particularly in places where a flash flood can materialize quickly but the source of water is not obviously apparent.

The cost to homeowners for flood insurance varies according to the property location. Maximum coverage for a low-risk property will run about $1,200 annually, Miles said.

Maximum coverage for a residential property is $250,000 for the structure and $100,000 for its contents, Miles said. A commercial property can be covered for up to $500,000 worth of structural damage and $500,000 for contents.

In some cases, flood insurance is required of homeowners, particularly those whose homes are in a special flood hazard zone and whose mortgages are insured by the federal government.

The claims against flood insurance that come in the wake of a storm such as Hurricane Florence, which pounded North Carolina and South Carolina last week, would sink a commercial insurance carrier. Congress has the authority to borrow money and keep the National Flood Insurance Program afloat.

Property owners may obtain national flood insurance through commercial insurance brokers, just as they can other forms of coverage.

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