insurance

Protect Your Home With Flood Insurance

Some residents near areas damaged by the Colorado wildfires may qualify for immediate flood coverage because of the risk of floods and mudflows.

I live in Colorado Springs, near where the Waldo Canyon fire destroyed homes this summer. My home was spared, but now that the foothills west of town have burned, flash flooding and mudslides in nearby neighborhoods are possible. Homeowners insurance doesn’t cover flooding, so how can homeowners protect themselves?

Damage from the fires was covered by homeowners insurance. But to cover the risk of floods and mudflows (the technical term for a river of liquid and mud flowing on normally dry land), you need to buy a flood insurance policy from the National Flood Insurance Program. You can buy coverage through your insurance agent, or find agents and price quotes for your address at FloodSmart.gov.

Although the chances of flood and mudflow damage grew after the wildfires, flood insurance prices have yet to rise, says John Prible, of the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America. Some people in the area are paying just $313 a year for $150,000 in structural coverage and $60,000 of coverage for possessions.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is letting residents of some areas near the Waldo Canyon and High Park wildfires buy flood coverage that kicks in immediately rather than after a 30-day waiting period. (FEMA is approving residents for this exemption on a case-by-case basis, and the coverage must be purchased within 60 days of the fire’s containment date. The waiting-period exemption will also apply on a case-by-case basis to people affected by future wildfires.)

But flood insurance is important even if you don’t qualify for immediate coverage. Floods and mudflows can occur years after a fire. For instance, vegetation is still sparse after the Hayman Fire in Colorado in 2002, and “those hills are susceptible if we have heavy rains,” says Fred Lautenbach, an independent insurance agent in Littleton, Colo.

If you live in a federal disaster area and have damage that isn’t covered by insurance, you may qualify for a FEMA grant, a Small Business Administration disaster loan (even if you don’t own a business) or tax breaks for uninsured casualty losses. Whether you had coverage or not, you may be eligible for disaster-related unemployment benefits, crisis counseling and other programs, says Micki Trost, of the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. You can find out about benefits at DisasterAssistance.gov or a FEMA disaster recovery center, or contact your county.

Also, people who were evacuated because of the wildfires may have coverage for hotel costs and other living expenses under their homeowners policy, even if their homes weren’t damaged, says Lautenbach.

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