Most Residents in At-Risk Zones in Florida Do Not have Flood Insurance

Category 5 Hurricane Irma is devastating the Caribbean, and hurricane winds are expected to hit southern Florida Saturday, but in the last five years, flood insurance has dropped dramatically in the region.

Florida residents lead the nation for buying flood insurance, and it’s no wonder, as hurricanes commonly hit the flat, low lands of the peninsula.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, however, flood insurance sales are down.

In 2012, Congress approved a higher price for flood insurance. At the same time, maps of high-risk zones were redrawn, lifting requirements to buy for some residents living in hazard areas.

Many residents living in hazardous zones have since chosen not to buy.

The Associated Press reports:

In just five years, the state’s total number of federal flood insurance policies has fallen by 15 percent, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency data.

Florida’s property owners still buy far more federal flood insurance than any other state – 1.7 million policies, covering about $42 billion in assets – but most residents in hazard zones are badly exposed.

With 1,350 miles of coastline, the most in the continental United States, Florida has roughly 2.5 million homes in hazard zones, more than three times that of any other state, FEMA estimates. And yet, across Florida’s 38 coastal counties, just 42 percent of these homes are covered.

Florida’s overall flood insurance rate for hazard-zone homes is just 41 percent. Fannie Mae ostensibly requires mortgage lenders to make sure property owners buy this insurance to qualify for federally backed loans, and yet in 59 percent of the cases, that insurance isn’t being paid for. Average annual premiums range from about $4,200 in Horseshoe Beach, a town of 169 residents on the Gulf Coast where 78 percent of policies have been dropped since 2012, down to about $200 in several cities. In most, it’s between $300 and $500.

In the counties being under at least partial evacuation orders Wednesday (Collier, Broward, Monroe and Miami-Dade), where 1.3 million houses are estimated to be in flood hazard zones, the percentage is an even lower 34.3 percent.

Roy Wright, National Flood Insurance Program leader, told the AP that his goal is to double the number of policies sold nationally. It’s currently estimated that only half the properties that need flood insurance actually have it.

Hurricane Irma’s eye is expected to hit southern Florida Sunday morning. Forecasts suggest major damage from the Florida Keys to Jacksonville.

The slow-moving Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas with flooding, and Irma is moving much faster, so rain will not dump for such an extended period of time, and cleanup efforts can begin sooner.

Hurricane Irma, though, could still be “the most costly storm in U.S. history” according to one hurricane researcher.

The Associated Press continues:

“This could easily be the most costly storm in U.S. history, which is saying a lot considering what just happened two weeks ago,” said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy […]

[M]any Floridians could find themselves with no money for flood repairs, just like people in Houston, where flood coverage dropped by 9 percent since 2012.

If Irma’s eye follows a track just west of Florida’s eastern coast, the initial storm surge could heavily damage the Florida Keys, the cities at the southern tip of Florida’s mainland, Florida City and Homestead, parts of Miami and Miami Beach, and other Atlantic coast cities, said Brian Haus, a professor of ocean sciences at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

If Hurricane Irma veres west, following Florida’s Gulf coast, then Tampa, St. Petersburg, and other major cities in that region could be devastated by huge storm surges.