By Chris Isidore | CNN
New York – Many victims of the massive storms now battering California about are to be hit with another heartbreak – discovering their insurance won’t cover the damage.
The typical homeowners’ policy won’t cover loss from flood damage. That is covered by the National Flood Insurance Program, a part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But in California, where drought, not flooding, had been the more common problem until recently, homeowners are about as prepared for flood damage as hurricane-prone Florida residents are for earthquakes.
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Data from NFIP shows only 52,400 homes and businesses are covered by flood insurance in the eight Southern California counties declared a disaster area because of this storm. That’s less than 1% of 7.7 million households in the affected area with coverage. Those counties have a combined population of more than 22.6 million people, according to the latest estimates from the Census Bureau.
Los Angeles County, with more than 10 million residents, has only 14,600 flood insurance policies in force. That’s roughly the same number as Lee County, Florida, which includes Fort Myers, and has fewer than 1 million residents.
Even some of those with flood insurance could find their policies won’t cover all of their losses. The federal policies have a limit of covering only $250,000 in damage to structures and $100,000 to the home’s contents. Those limits can be quickly exceeded, especially in Southern California. Homeowners can buy excess flood insurance coverage to match the limits of coverage on their homeowners policies, but many do not bother to do so.
Flood insurance can be required by mortgage lenders on homes in federally designated flood plains. But if an area is not judged to be at risk of flooding, there’s a very good chance that homeowners will not have bothered to pay extra for the flood coverage.
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That might be especially true for homeowners in California, who are dealing with among the highest homeowners’ insurance premiums in the nation, due to a combination of the high cost of rebuilding and the risk from other natural disasters, such as wild fires. Several major national property and casualty insurers have stopped writing homeowners’ policies in California, driving up prices.
Federal flood insurance is generally available to homeowners and business throughout the United States and its territories.
The NFIP estimates that more than 40% of NFIP flood insurance claims come from outside the high-risk flood zones. Damage in those non-flood prone areas are likely even higher given the lower frequency of coverage.
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