Homeowners without flood insurance in a bind

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer November 30, 2012 09:24 pm

 

Another series of storms is expected to bring high winds and several inches of rain to the region this weekend, further frustrating owners of almost 250 Brookings homes and businesses still recovering from previous storm damage.

On top of that, many residents affected by two destructive back-to-back storms last week are realizing their home insurance policy doesn’t cover floods or landslides.

About a dozen residents affected by the first storm attended a special Brookings City Council meeting Tuesday night to find out what they need to do.

 

Most insurance companies offer flood insurance when homeowners or renters are obtaining or renewing a policy, said Sue Ross of Gerald Ross Insurance Agency in Brookings. And most of them decline the offer.

And when the floods come, as they are apt to do, they’re caught in a bind.

“We’re all flooded; we have no heat,” said Jean Miller, whose Buena Vista Loop house was flooded. “I don’t have flood insurance – I mean, who does?”

First, said City Manager Gary Milliman, they need to contact their insurance agent to discover what is – and isn’t – covered.

Agencies typically set their own rate, file it with the state Department of Insurance for approval and establish its own manner of writing a policy, Ross said. So they vary from company to company and policy to policy.

Homeowners who have purchased insurance from the government are required as part of their policies to include flood insurance. Information can be found at floodsmart.gov.

There are the types of disasters to consider: flood, landslide, earthquake. There is the item being insured: a home made of tongue-in-groove teak versus a mobile home, for instance. Location is key: A home on a high meadow will likely have lower insurance rates than one tucked against a hill at the mouth of a canyon on the beach.

But the city and county might be able to help.

Those affected by the storm should compile documentation that lists their name, contact information, details of the damage, the type of building affected, cost estimates of the damage and any comments, then submit them to City Finance Director Janell Howard at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Documents will be submitted to the county, then the state and then FEMA, to determine if the damage created by the storms meets the criteria for federal emergency funding.

Gordon Clay, who lost a culvert over which his driveway was built and whose water tanks hang precariously from the edge of the top of a landslide facing his house, has no flood insurance. He’s thinking of taking out a home equity loan.

He and others who live in unincorporated Curry County are asked to send the same damage information to County Emergency Services Coordinator Don Kendall, who is submitting them to agencies for possible reimbursement.

“The more damage reported, the better our chances,” Milliman said. “The county needs to make the case to the state that certain economic damages warrant funding.”

That’s why it’s important to check the fine print. If flooding and landslides are not covered, the cumulative need of the community could reach the level at which it qualifies for disaster assistance funds, Milliman said.

It has already surpassed that, said County Emergency Services Coordinator Don Kendall.

Based on state calculations, Curry County could qualify for assistance if there is more than $71,000 worth of damage. The 212 homes so far reported have far exceeded that – at $800,000. Twelve businesses that suffered damage have estimates exceeding $300,000.

And they thought cleanup was a pain.

Miller said she believes the city is to blame, as it is responsible for clearing the culverts in town.

Debris and trash flowed downstream from town to the lowest culvert in the area – at Memory Lane and East Buena Vista Loop – blocking it and forcing water over the top and down into homes below.

Crews – both city, volunteers and residents – cleared that ditch four times in six hours during the heaviest part of the deluge, Milliman said.

Resident Paul Carlin said he had knee-deep water in his front yard, and when he opened the gate to the backyard, it roared down and over the cliff, taking out drainage pipes and some land. Next door, the same event resulted in the loss of a concrete deck and trees at Don Mitchell’s house.

Mitchell said his policy will cover the damage inside the house, but isn’t sure about the deck that slipped 6 feet down his oceanside cliff.

Milliman said it was possible that, during investigations of the insurance claims, companies might try to sue the city for its alleged part in the disaster.

“This is going to be a very expensive drill – an impressive drill (on behalf of the city’s response) – but expensive,” said Councilman Kelly McClain.

Just out of town, Sam Vitale lost his driveway and about 5 acres of trees in a landslide. The slide just missed his water tank. It will mean reinforcing the hillside and replacing the driveway.

Insurance?

“I’m going to go look into that right now,” he said Wednesday.