After being hit by two tropical storms that submerged basements, cracked house foundations and destroyed property, residents of the northeastern United States, still recovering, are suffering another unexpected blow: thousands of families are now overwhelmed with financial losses because they did not have flood insurance.
Most of those caught off guard by the torrential downpours from the remnants of Hurricane Ida and Tropical Storm Henri lived in areas outside the coastal floodplains, making flood insurance an afterthought. for most working class families whose neighborhoods have been among the hardest hit.
“When we called the insurance company, the first thing they told us was that they don’t provide any assistance for anything that is caused by a storm. And they left it there, ”said Amit Shivprasad, his rising voice echoing the frustrations shared by his neighbors in the Jamaican section of Queens.
For weeks now, Shivprasad and his parents have been crammed into a relative’s apartment after New York City home inspectors declared their home uninhabitable.
Ida’s floodwaters, exacerbated by overflowing storm drains and sewers, tore an exterior wall and drowned two of the family’s tenants in a basement apartment. The storm killed around 50 people in the northeast, many of whom drowned in basement apartments or cars. He whipped the area less than two weeks after a watering from Henri.
Residents of the Shivprasad neighborhood have long complained about inadequate drainage which makes flooding a frequent concern.
“It’s not a flood zone, which shocked me,” said Shivprasad, whose family home is 4 miles inland from the nearest floodplain. If this was a flood-prone area, the family’s mortgage company likely would have demanded flood insurance.
Of the roughly 10,000 homes in his neighborhood, only 16 were protected by flood insurance, according to a database compiled by the Association of State Floodplain Managers.
Flood damage is not covered by homeowners ‘or renters’ insurance policies. People without a flood insurance policy have few options for getting help paying for damage, according to Loretta Worters, spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute. They may be able to get federal help, she said, including low-interest loans and damage grants.
While authorities are still calculating the losses – which are said to run into the billions of dollars – residents wonder how they will find the money to repair homes and replace property. Fans continue to roar in damp basements, and dump trucks still circle around hauling moldy couches, soft mattresses, and now-unnecessary electronics.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it has already paid at least $ 22 million to nearly 5,200 families in New York City. More than 38,000 households have requested assistance. In New Jersey, aid to some 39,000 families is still on hold, while FEMA has paid about $ 11 million to nearly 3,000 families.
So far, about $ 10 million in flood insurance claims have been paid in New Jersey to 6,000 policyholders, according to FEMA. In New York’s five boroughs, approximately $ 3 million was disbursed for 2,600 flood insurance claims.
Flood insurance, offered through the National Flood Insurance Program, is generally required for mortgages on properties considered to have about a 1 in 100 chance of flooding each year, but is optional for everyone. others. Some see it as an unnecessary cost, even as severe weather strikes now with more frequency and intensity.
“You never know, especially with the way the world is acting right now, when this flood is going to happen in your neighborhood,” said Michael Wade, spokesperson for FEMA.
“All you have to do is watch this particular storm,” he said, “and you’ll see people who didn’t live in the floodplains – and who have never been inundated before – all of a sudden they are inundated with 6 inches of rain per hour. Now they have problems.
John and Roseann Kiernan’s Rossmoor neighborhood, a large complex of senior residences in Monroe Township, central New Jersey, is 20 miles from the coast and not near major rivers. The Kiernans and others said they have been told over the years that they don’t need flood insurance because the area is not in a flood-prone area – although the neighborhood has been flooded in 2005.
John Kiernan’s mother previously owned the house and had flood insurance that cost around $ 650 a year, he said. She passed away eight years ago, and they finally dropped the insurance. Now the Kiernans estimate it will cost $ 100,000 to put their house back into habitable condition and replace their car.
Their current policy “covered nothing,” said John Kiernan, a retired correctional officer. “The insurance company sent some really nice and understanding people, they listened to everyone for about an hour, then basically said, ‘You don’t get anything.’ So that’s how it is. “
On the corner of the Kiernan, Joan Russo and her husband have lived in the same house for 16 years and moved in a few days before the 2005 floods. Their house suffered extensive water damage during Henri, forcing them to move in with her son’s family. In another town.
“When we got our insurance they said, ‘You are not in a flood zone, you don’t have to,'” she said. “You listen to the provider and they say you don’t need it, so you don’t get it.”
Back in Queens, Sahadeo Bhagwandin worries about how he will bring his family home. They have been spending nights in a hotel, thanks to the Red Cross, since the floods.
“I don’t know how I’m going to solve this problem,” said Bhagwandin, a structural engineer, pointing to a thick crack in his basement wall. It could cost up to $ 125,000 to repair the foundation of his house, which buckled after floodwaters rushed underground.
Until a few years ago, Bhagwandin said, he had flood insurance – purchased after a 2007 storm in flooded streets – but the policy was later canceled.
Some of its neighbors, especially working-class immigrants facing language barriers, are not as familiar with the complexities of property insurance and may not have realized that they needed a separate coverage for natural disasters like floods and earthquakes.
Even if they were aware of the risk of flooding, he said, their financial priorities could have been elsewhere.
“It is not a wealthy community,” Bhagwandin said. “People are trying to save every dollar they have and do something else, instead of buying flood insurance.”