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Flood Insurance

Many in flood zones, don't know it

More than 80 percent of South Florida is prone to flooding, yet fewer than half of the area's homes are covered by flood insurance. And many homes that were flooded by Hurricane Katrina are in areas that aren't supposed to flood.


When Al and Lorna Hawkins bought their far South Miami-Dade home, the couple didn't buy flood insurance because they were told it wasn't required.

After Hurricane Katrina dumped up to 16 inches of rain in six hours, the couple was left with six inches in their house. Carpeting, flooring, drywall and furniture were ruined.

''We might have to get loans to cover the cost of repairs,'' said Al Hawkins.

Like Hawkins, several hundred homeowners and small-business owners in parts of Miami-Dade County where the flood risk is considered minimal are now looking at extensive water damage and expensive repair bills. If they don't carry flood insurance, they are on their own; the damage won't be covered by windstorm or other insurance.

Here's the reality:

About 80 percent of the Miami-Dade is in a flood zone. Yet, only 42 percent of the homes carry flood insurance, according to data from the National Flood Insurance Program and Claritas Corp.

In Broward County, about 90 percent of which is in a flood zone, just 52 percent of homeowners have flood insurance.

Though Broward had no reports of flooding from Katrina, the story was far different for Miami-Dade. The county's own survey found 162 homes with significant flood damage. Many were in areas not designated as flood zones, including sections of Homestead, Cutler Ridge, Richmond, South Miami Heights, West Quail Roost, Naranja and Leisure City.

South Florida is not alone in being underinsured for flooding. In some coastal counties in Alabama and Mississippi devastated by Katrina, less then 25 percent of the homes carry flood insurance. Less than 4 percent have the coverage in Alabama's Mobile County. Some New Orleans parishes were better protected with nearly 60 percent of homes covered, according to reports.

Actually, the percentage of homes in South Florida with flood insurance coverage is higher than the norm, which is about 10 percent in most of the country, says Robert Hunter, director of insurance research for the Consumer Federation of America and a former federal insurance administrator.


Flood insurance is available to all homeowners through the National Flood Insurance Program, created in 1968. Yet, unless it's specifically required by mortgage bankers, few homeowners purchase it. Hunter says many bankers don't even demand flood coverage for homes in flood-risk areas.

The maximum coverage is $250,000 for the house and $100,000 for contents. Deductibles range from $500 to $1,000.

Premiums, ranging from $317 to more than $1,000, are determined by a home's location and elevation. Rates can be reduced by having an elevation study done.

The flood maps that determine flood zones -- and ultimately, what the policies cost -- are ordered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which administers the flood insurance program, and drawn with assistance from local officials.

The distinction between a flood zone and non-flood zone depends on what is called the ''100-year flood level'' -- the elevation at which there is a 1 percent chance of floodwaters reaching during a calendar year.

Any area below that elevation is considered a flood hazard area. Anything above it is outside the floodplain.

Business owner Pura Baker was planning to buy flood insurance once her Homestead sushi restaurant was financially established. Now, she fears her business on Krome Avenue in downtown Homestead, which she opened more than a year ago, may close if she can't afford repairs after flooding caused by Katrina.

The bill to dry the dark-green carpet was $500 and the freezer needs repairs. The contents of the freezer, including fresh tuna, were ruined.

Julio Brea, Homestead's director of public works, acknowledges downtown Homestead isn't part of the county's current floodplain. Just four in 10 property owners in that area carry flood coverage.


The flood-zone maps for Miami-Dade -- first drawn in 1972 and updated in the early 1990s -- have been redrawn and will be released for public comment later this month.

It's possible that some areas such as Sweetwater, which flooded extensively after 1999's Hurricane Irene and isn't now part of the floodplain, could be included, says Michael Gambino, supervisor of the floodplain management section of the county's Department of Environmental Resource Management.

''Because Miami-Dade County is so flat, there could still be considerable damage even before the water gets very high,'' says Carlos Castillo, director of the county's Office of Emergency Management.

Broward is just beginning to revise its floodplain maps, says John Krouse, manager of the water engineering and license section in Broward's environmental resources division. Some of Broward's floodplain maps were revised in the late 1990s.

Insurance experts say it's a wise move for homeowners and business owners in coastal areas of Florida to buy flood insurance, even if the homes aren't in flood zones.

Jennifer Messemer, whose boyfriend's South Dade home suffered extensive damage, understands that most people would choose to save the money if they're told they live in an area that doesn't require flood insurance. But now she advises: Buy the coverage anyway.

''You just need one instance like this and you're one step above being destitute,'' she says. ``Luckily, we have credit cards.''

Herald business writer Monica Hatcher contributed to this report.

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