Only one thing is certain about flood insurance: It's complicated
Navigating the world of insurance after a flood just might be more treacherous than dealing with the flood itself.
Insurance agents in eastern Connecticut - busy fielding hundreds of phone calls Wednesday after a two-day storm that dumped up to 8 inches of water here - said as much, and they're in the business of helping consumers do just that.
Among other things, what they're telling consumers is homeowners' policies exclude flood coverage, except when they don't, under a so-called "backup of sewers and drains endorsement," while federal flood insurance does cover floods, except that, inevitably, there are limitations.
Meanwhile, Gov. M. Jodi Rell has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a preliminary damage assessment, which could garner aid to individuals and households; public assistance to damaged buildings, bridges and roads; and hazard mitigation to prevent or reduce long-term risk to life and property, according to spokesmen for Rell and FEMA.
Once FEMA's evaluation is complete, Rell can request a presidential declaration for disaster relief, much like what has already been granted in Rhode Island.
"Governor Rell's goal from the outset has been to get federal relief sent to Connecticut cities and towns as soon as possible," said spokesman Adam Liegeot in a statement. "Governor Rell wants no delays in providing towns the help they need to recover from the storm."
Here in eastern Connecticut, from Killingly to Groton, insurance agents described some of the basic information they were conveying to consumers.
"I'm trying to simplify for my customers," said Kevin Reardon of the Reardon Agency in Waterford. "Homeowners' (insurance) won't cover water that is traveling horizontally. It will cover it if it is traveling vertically. If it seeps through the basement floor, it's not covered. A leak in your roof is covered."
However, a so-called endorsement for basement drains and installed sump pumps provides up to $5,000 worth of coverage and, in some cases, even more to homeowners whose drain is backed up or sump pump is overwhelmed, said Reardon, Donna Yother of Sava Insurance in Waterford, John Scott of the Bailey Agency in Groton and Janis Krotsis, a personal lines manager with the Hedden Agency in Waterford.
That endorsement, if offered by the insurer and put in place by the consumer, typically costs $60 to $75, agents said.
However, "Many we're seeing today are people who never had flooding," said Krotsis.
Part of the frustration for consumers is that when they take out insurance policies, they may be made aware of the coverage but decide against the added expense, especially if they have no experience with floods and because recessionary pressures have pinched household budgets, Krotsis said.
"We'll offer them all the coverage, but they often want to trim the fat" and don't get the endorsement, she said.
While it may not make sense to get that coverage if the customers don't have a drain or sump pump, if they do, "I would say you'd definitely want that policy," Krotsis said.
When it comes to federal flood insurance provided by FEMA, which can cost $400 a year or more, agents noted some limitations, including a potentially high deductible and a cap of $250,000 in coverage, said Scott and Jay Byrnes of the Byrnes Agency in Killingly.
"I'd rather have $250,000 to go toward my house than nothing," said Scott. "Usually you're not going to lose the whole house, so that can go a long way toward repairing your damages."
Also, FEMA insurance covers mechanical equipment central to maintaining a home, like a furnace or water heater, but coverage of appliances like washers and driers must be purchased separately, they said. Furniture and televisions are not covered, agents said.
Federal flood insurance is required if the home is in a flood zone but also can be purchased if the home is not in a flood zone. Either way, FEMA coverage rules can be daunting to interpret, said Jim Pittz, business issues director for the Glenmont, N.Y.-based Professional Insurance Agents Association.
The regional PIA has more than 500 members in Connecticut and branches in New York, New Jersey and New Hampshire.
"Just because your basement floods doesn't mean it's going to be covered by your flood policy, because it's got to be categorized as a flood," said Pittz. "It's got to hit your neighbor as well as you and cover more than two acres - it can't be just localized in your backyard."
According to FEMA, the costs for flood insurance vary depending on where the consumers live and the type of policy they purchase, but detailed information is available at www.floodsmart.gov.
Insurance agents likewise pointed out that the availability of coverage for flood damage in the endorsement varies depending on the insurer.
In the end, whether a consumer chooses an endorsement on a homeowner's policy or federal flood insurance, or neither, erring on the side of caution makes sense to agents like Scott.
When they call Scott now, consumers "are wondering if they should have flood insurance," Scott said. "And the answer is, universally, yes. Even if you don't even live near a body of water, the body of water may come to you."
Consumers with questions about claims can call the state Insurance Department's toll-free hot-line at (800) 203-3447 in addition to contacting their insurance agent or company.
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