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The Madera Tribune

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Editor's Corner: Some advice for the flood-prone

September 9, 2017

 

As Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida, we are learning, through The Associated Press, that homeowners in many of the most flood-prone areas of the Sunshine State have let their federal flood-insurance policies lapse.


“Most residents in hazard zones are badly exposed,” the AP’s Terry Spencer and Meghan Hoyer report. That puts about $42 billion in assets at risk, they say.


Of course, that is a huge problem for those who own those uninsured properties, but it also is a potential problem for those who kept their policies paid up, because although they are insured against their losses, their premiums could rise because of the drop in the total number of policy holders.


Nationwide, only half the 10 million properties that need flood insurance have it, said Roy Wright, who runs the National Flood Insurance Program. He told the AP last week that he wants to double the number of policies sold nationally in the near future.


People who have federally backed mortgages are required to get flood insurance if their properties are within areas prone to flooding, but those requirements often aren’t enforced once an initial mortgage is granted. This is especially true if a mortgage is refinanced. A flood-insurance policy can be allowed to lapse without a lender noticing.


Critics of the federally backed flood-insurance program complain that it encourages people to live in dangerous places, such as near the sea or on riverbanks. That’s because although the rates seem high, in fact they usually are subsidized by the government, masking the true cost of paying for rebuilding after a flood.


Critics say people should build houses on higher ground and use lower areas for recreation or farming. They say if the true actuarial costs of flood insurance were part of the cost of mortgage payments, people would be less likely to buy property in flood-prone areas.


We should pay better attention to that fact in Madera, where floods occasionally occur. We saw some flooding several months ago when the drought was ended by heavy rains and streams jumped their banks. We have seen flooding along both the Fresno and San Joaquin rivers. We have seen flood waters in downtown Madera and in Chowchilla.


We know we live in a flood zone, yet most people who live here don’t have flood insurance because of the cost and their own doubts about the risks of flooding.


In Texas, many who were hit by Hurricane Harvey were uninsured, and they’ve got their fingers crossed that the government will help them out anyway. That may not be the case.


Yes, Congress has voted some $15.3 billion in emergency aid, but that doesn’t mean uninsured homes and other properties will be rebuilt without cost to the property owners, nor should it mean that. The government already has stepped up to help keep flood insurance relatively affordable. To provide gratis money to the uninsured for rebuilding isn’t fair to the taxpayers, especially those taxpayers who have paid their flood-insurance premiums.


One example of what happens when people who don’t insure themselves against flood damage is New Orleans. Many neighborhoods of New Orleans remain unrepaired after Hurricane Katrina, which struck that city in 2005. A major cause of that lack of repair is that many people who should have had flood insurance didn’t have it, and most federal help in that city since 2005 has gone toward extremely expensive flood-control measures, many of which are still being installed.


People who live along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers also need to do a better job of insuring themselves, because when those rivers flood, they take no prisoners.


What other people do, of course, doesn’t concern us so much, except as examples from which we can learn.


Does it flood here? You bet it does. In fact, we live on what used to be a huge lake. An ideal flood plain. Do we need flood insurance? Yes we do, if our properties are within flood-prone areas. Can we expect Uncle Sam to bail us out if we get flooded? What part of “no” don’t you understand?

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