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Irene Drowns Uninsured Homes

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By Steve Cook

The price tag for residential properties caused by flood damage from Hurricane Irene’s surges along the East Coast could total than $59 billion worth of flood-related damages to a total of 900,000 properties, and many—if not most—are not covered by flood insurance.

Irene’s surges—the result of high winds and low pressure amassing water inside the storm and releasing it in a powerful rush over when the hurricane moves on-shore—reached ten feet or higher from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to New England this weekend.

Properties located outside of designated FEMA hazard flood zones are not required to carry federal flood insurance, and the vast majority of owners in moderate to low risk areas do not carry flood insurance, which costs an average of $600 annually. Standard homeowners’ policies usually cover wind and hurricane damage, but not flood damage, even if it is caused by a hurricane.

CoreLogic, which has an extensive database on potential surge-related flooding, released an analysis of the potential exposure of residential properties in East Coast metros that are outside the FEMA flood zone. Long Island faces the greatest risk. Some 73,673 homes worth $32 billion outside the FEMA flood zone at in the path of Irene’s surge. It found that in New York City, some 7,188 homes valued at more than $2.8 billion were at risk.

However, New York is one of the most heavily insured states by the National Flood Insurance Program. As of June 30, according to government statistics, the program had $8.61 billion of insurance in force on nearly 38,000 policies just in New York City. Cities across Long Island are also heavily insured, with at least six towns with more than $1 billion in insurance policies in force.

In Virginia Beach, Virginia, some 63 percent of homes in the path of the surge are outside the flood zone. Boston has the most homes outside the flood zone at risk; 86,833 homes—or 80 percent of all the homes in the path of the surge—are at risk. Philadelphia has 143,000 homes-80 percent of the total at risk-outside the flood zone.

Less than one-fifth of U.S. home owners buy federally subsidized flood insurance—which covers both property and personal belongings—even though more than four out of every five natural disasters involve flooding, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

The average flood insurance policy in 2010 cost about $600 a year and the average claim over the last five years was about $34,000, the Federal Emergency Management Agency says. People outside of high-risk areas file over 20 percent of claims and receive one-third of disaster assistance for flooding

Early estimates put insured losses above $10 billion. Eqecat, an insurance estimator, says it appears Irene caused less damage in North Carolina and Virginia than 1999’s Hurricane Floyd, which the National Hurricane Center ranks as one of the 15 costliest hurricanes ever. State Farm adjusters on the ground in North Carolina agreed that Irene did not cause as much damage as Floyd.

For more information visit www.realestateeconomywatch.com.

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