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How Flood Insurance Works


Do you need flood insurance?
To be eligible for the National Flood Insurance Program, your community must adopt and enforce floodplain ordinances to mitigate flood damage.
To be eligible for the National Flood Insurance Program, your community must adopt and enforce floodplain ordinances to mitigate flood damage.
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His name is Bill, and every once and a while, I'll see him at the end of the bar sipping whatever he sips. Bill lives down by the river, not too far from my fishing hole. When the harsh winter of 2010 to 2011 finally melted away, Bill was in a peck of trouble. The snow melt coupled with heavy rains flooded the river and his house. Luckily, Bill had flood insurance, which helped him rebuild.

Most of the repair work to Bill's house was completed by the end of October 2011. Then Irene, the same storm that drowned Vermont, blew through. Poor Bill. Flooded again. Now I know why he sips whatever he sips. Luckily, flood insurance covered most repairs -- again. Bill is now looking to sell his house. I don't blame him.

Before buying flood insurance you need to figure out whether you are eligible. Nearly 20,000 communities in the United States participate in NFIP. To be eligible, communities must adopt and enforce floodplain ordinances to mitigate flood damage. FEMA makes sure communities are following the rules. Anyone can buy flood insurance if their community participates in the program, and it doesn't matter if you live in a high- or low-risk flood zone. If your community doesn't participate, then you cannot buy flood insurance.

To find out what a community's flood risk is -- as though poor Bill didn't already know -- FEMA has nearly 100,000 maps. The maps outline where the high-risk and moderate-to-low risk zones are located. If you live in a high-risk zone, and have a federally-backed mortgage, the law requires that you have flood insurance. There's a good reason why. Buildings located in high-risk flood areas have a 26 percent chance of being damaged by a flood during the 30-years it would take to pay back a conventional mortgage [source: FloodSmart.gov].

If you live in a moderate-to-low risk area, the law doesn't require flood insurance. But, it's probably a good idea to buy it anyway. According to FEMA, those living outside of the high-risk zones file more than 20 percent of NFIP claims. If you live in a moderate-to-low-risk zone, you can buy up to $200,000 in flood insurance to protect your house and possessions. That's roughly $405 a year if you have a basement, and $365 if you don't. Even if you live on a hill in a low-risk flood zone, it's a good idea to have flood insurance. Hillside properties can be damaged by mudflow, which flood insurance covers [source: FEMA].

Let's review the safety tip of the day: Just because you've never been flooded before, doesn't mean it'll never happen. Many conditions can result in a flood, including hurricanes, damaged levees, antiquated or clogged drainage systems, and rapid rainfall. All of these disasters are covered by flood insurance.

Just ask Bill and the people of Vermont.


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