Floyd victims: tens of thousands have no flood insurance due to lack of information and ignorance

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Yesterday's Raleigh News & Observer:

Wednesday, October 20, 1999

Editorial: Hard lessons learned

In the wake of Hurricane Floyd, property owners without flood insurance find their troubles compounded. Consumer education and enforcement of existing laws are the key.

Word that tens of thousands of property owners in Eastern North Carolina were not covered by flood insurance is like another heavy rain on top of Hurricane Floyd. Yet as The News & Observer's Carol Frey reported Tuesday, more than 115,000 homes and businesses located in 100-year floodplains were not protected with insurance against flooding -- some by choice, some owing to lax enforcement of regulations, some caught in loopholes. As a result, even federal emergency help cannot make everyone whole. Consider the town of Princeville in Edgecombe County, a place essentially wiped out by Floyd's floods. Most of the homeowners had no flood insurance even though the town is in a floodplain and has seen five floods from the Tar River this century. Who's responsible for the absent coverage? It's not simple. In some cases, homeowners made the decision not to buy flood insurance when they bought their homes; in other cases, mortgage brokers and other companies not covered by the federal flood insurance regulations (which govern state-chartered banks, credit unions and savings and loans) did not require customers to buy the insurance. In still other cases, where mortgages were issued by institutions subject to regulations requiring flood insurance in 100-year floodplains, federal regulators were not as vigilant as they should have been. It's possible some of those institutions gave customers a "break" from buying flood insurance simply because they were competing with the mortgage broker across the street. Some consumers who were on the borderline with regard to what was and was not a floodplain rolled the dice of their own volition. But they might have been forced to buy the insurance for their own good if maps of floodplain areas used by lenders had been more accurate, or if lenders required personal inspections of property on the market to determine flood vulnerability. Many maps have not kept up with development patterns that might have changed a particular piece of property's susceptibility to flooding. Now, federal officials should level the playing field for all lenders, requiring them to abide by the same regulations for required insurance in 100-year flood plains. Regulators must be more vigilant in their compliance exams on banks and other lenders covered by the law. Equally vital, there should be a high priority on consumer education. Hurricane Floyd should be Example A in the homebuying classroom as a case study in how seemingly long odds on flooding can suddenly become short, dangerous -- and deep.

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), October 21, 1999


I've often reflected on how stupid it is to live in a flood plain if one has a choice. Even with 100% insurance coverage, you can lose all of your keepsake possessions or your life.

Me, I live 450 feet above the Ohio River. If we flood, Cincinnati is under water.


-- Man From Uncle 1999 (mfu1999@hotmail.com), October 21, 1999.

Yes...Old Git, its very sad. However....if anyone lives in a 100 year flood plain, they qualify to buy the gov'ts flood insurance. Its kind of like preparing for y2k. I know there are probably many who couldn't afford insurance, but many chose not to take advantage of the program. They gambled and lost. And while my heart goes out to them,along with some checks to the Red Cross, I have to be a hard nose and say, "next time be prepared". We make choices everyday in life. Some are good and some are bad. Think them over carefully, just as you do the potential problems with y2k. Taz

-- Taz (Taz@aol.com), October 21, 1999.

Re: if maps of floodplain areas used by lenders had been more accurate

OG, very often the maps are inaccurate. Floodplain maps used by bankers are often dated 1986. Since then, my area (near Sacramento CA) suffered what were termed "65-year floods" that went beyond the boundaries of the old "100-year" flood maps. People who were not in a flood zone got flooded 2 or 3 times.

Supposedly FEMA is developing updated maps. Don't know how long that will be. *sigh* Another reason why we should not rely on government officials to keep us informed of local dangers. Even if they are good intentioned (arguable), they just don't know.

-- Margaret J (janssm@aol.com), October 21, 1999.

There's some evidence emerging that in one town at least (Zebulon) lenders and others knew for sure that new houses were built in a flood plain but willfully failed to so inform the homeowners. In other cases, this is the third flooding for some individuals--they DID know they lived in a flood-prone area. And unfortunately, in the rush to permit development, many municipalities have "overlooked" the fact that asphalt, concrete and bricks now cover land which formerly soaked up rainwater, rendering flood plain maps totally inaccurate.

I believe the National Hurricane Center and other hurricane experts have been warning about coastal overdevelopment for some years but nobody has paid much attention. There are many other towns near and on the Atlantic coast which are just as vulnerable as eastern NC--God forbid this should happen again somewhere else. The damage "down east" is so catastrophic it will take years and years before communities recover.

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), October 21, 1999.

As I recall what I read in the papers, homes well above normal flood stage were flooded. How is a "flood plain" defined? If enough rain falls, everything is flood plain, right?

In Cincinnati a plaque on a building at 4th and Vine Streets shows the high water mark reached by the 1937 flood. It is 79.9 feet above the reference datum, whatever that is. There's a description of that flood here.

-- Tom Carey (tomcarey@mindspring.com), October 21, 1999.

And a great Borgmann cartoon at the bottom of this page.

-- Tom Carey (tomcarey@mindspring.com), October 21, 1999.

Great cartoon! As the editorial says, one of the major reasons THIS one turned on us is, "Many maps have not kept up with development patterns that might have changed a particular piece of property's susceptibility to flooding." Wetlands have been drained and built on, elevated roads have been constructed (effectively damming heavy hurricane rains and river flooding), bad erosion from huge building sites has been a problem, and so on. Development seems almost unrestricted in most parts of North Carolina; here in Durham, zoning laws are a joke.

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), October 21, 1999.

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