Despite widespread flooding in western Palm Beach County during Tropical Storm Isaac, a relatively small number of homes sustained water damage — which is fortunate, because few homes in the hardest-hit areas are insured for flood losses.
Streets, parking lots, driveways and docks were under water, but in most cases, the waters didn’t rise enough to enter houses. County officials said Wednesday morning that they received reports of only 62 homes that were flooded. Officials in Wellington — which was inundated with 18 inches of rain — said Wednesday afternoon that they know of no homes that were flooded.
If those numbers hold, homeowners in western communities dodged potentially devastating damage. That’s because only a fraction of property owners in Wellington, Royal Palm Beach and Greenacres buy federal flood insurance.
Standard homeowners insurance policies have excluded flood damage for years. The only carrier to cover losses caused by rising waters is Uncle Sam, through the National Flood Insurance Program.
If you live in a high-risk flood area and have a mortgage, your lender requires you to carry flood insurance. That explains why many property owners in coastal communities buy the coverage. In Palm Beach (population 8,445), there are 7,661 flood insurance policies on residential and commercial properties, according to the National Flood Insurance Program.
But if you live in a so-called low-to-moderate risk flood zone, your lender doesn’t require the coverage. So in Wellington (population 57,163), only 612 flood policies are in effect. Royal Palm Beach (655 flood policies in force) and Greenacres (387 policies) combined have fewer flood policies in force than tiny Ocean Ridge (1,302 policies).
A spokeswoman for the National Flood Insurance Program said it’s too early to tell how many claims will come from Tropical Storm Isaac.
Flood damage can be costly. The federal government says the average flood claim over the past five years was $34,000.
Insurance industry officials say the flooding serves as a reminder that a federal policy can be a wise investment.
“People see they’re in a low-to-moderate risk zone, and they think that means zero risk,” said Lynne McChristian, Florida representative for the Insurance Information Institute, an industry trade group. “If there’s no severe weather, people let their guard down.”
Flood insurance is less expensive for homes in lower-risk zones.
Meanwhile, Citizens Property Insurance, the state’s largest insurer, said it had received 2,235 claims for Isaac damage as of 5 p.m. Wednesday. That includes 520 claims in Palm Beach County, 914 in Broward County and 630 in Miami-Dade County.