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Basic home policies don’t cover flooding

By  Michael E. Kanell 

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

September 22, 2009

As the waters rise in Georgia, so does the number of homeowners with water damage and no insurance protection.

The relentless rain has overwhelmed sewers, forced evacuations, closed school systems and swamped cars. It also forces many homeowners to wonder whether they can recover the value of flood-caused losses. For many, the answer will be no.

“The bad news is that your home policy basically covers wind and fire,” said John Oxendine, Georgia insurance commissioner. “Flooding is not on the list.”

That basic coverage will be enough if water comes through the roof, through a leak or a hole caused by wind or a falling tree, he said, but not “if the water touched the ground before it came in your home.”

In a flood plain, flood insurance is required by law. But typically, one-quarter or more of flood-damage claims are for homes where insurance is optional.

Oxendine said calls and questions have been flowing into the state’s insurance office. “The good news is that if you have comprehensive auto insurance, your vehicle is covered across the board,” he said.

This storm and the resulting flooding is a reminder that people should re-evaluate whether to buy a flood policy.

That move won’t help if the waters rise too rapidly: There is a 30-day lag or waiting period before flood insurance takes effect  unless a flood policy is required by a lender for a home closing.

During the past decade, the average insurance claim for flood damage was more than $33,000, according to the National Flood Insurance Program.

The federal program backs the insurance, which can be bought through independent  agents. Rates depend on the level of risk in the area as well as the type and age of the home, according to the agency.

A high-risk area has a 1 percent chance of flooding each year — a 26 percent chance over the life of a 30-year mortgage. But the agency recommends insurance in moderate- to low-risk areas, as well.

If you have damage and you are insured, there are several steps to take, according to David Colmans of the Georgia Insurance Information Service:

 Contact your insurer; provide cell phone and e-mail addresses or numbers where you can be reached if you leave home.

 If it is safe, separate damaged from undamaged property and take photos of damaged property and floodwater levels.

 Whether covered or not, a homeowner should do whatever is possible to limit damage, remove wet carpets and dry out the home.



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