Isaias Storm Surge and Flood Insurance

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With Tropical Storm Isaias making landfall last night, according to the National Weather Center, causing storm surge and flash flooding in the Carolinas, the disturbance is now moving north. Now is a good time to review how your insurance policies cover (or don’t cover) water damage caused by inclement weather.

Hurricanes are defined by their strong winds – with a sustained speed of 74 mph or more, to be precise – which makes it easy to confuse the wind with their most potentially destructive aspect. Yet as points out the National Hurricane Center, it is in fact storm surges and large waves from hurricanes that “pose the greatest threat to life and property along the coast”. And coastal communities are not the only ones vulnerable. “Storm surges can travel several kilometers inland,” says the NHC, as happened with devastating consequences during hurricanes Katrina (in 2005) and Sandy (in 2012).

Isaias was upgraded to a hurricane last night due to high wind speeds, but has now been restored to tropical storm status. Still, the National Weather Center predicts heavy rain as Isaias moves up the coast, including “potentially deadly urban flooding in DC, Baltimore and elsewhere.”

Here is a brief overview of the coverage for water damage that is included with typical home and other property insurance policies.

Homeowners policies do not cover flood and storm surge damage

The golden rule with home insurance is that if water enters your home directly from above, the policy should cover the necessary repairs. If, however, the water hits the ground first, it is technically considered a flood. And covering your home against flooding requires a separate insurance policy.

A storm surge is not technically a flood, but its consequences are still not covered. According to the International Risk Management Institute, court cases have considered a storm surge to be “little more than a synonym for ‘tidal wave’ or ‘wind-driven flooding’, both of which are excluded in most cases. [insurance].”

Your home insurance will, however, protect you against damage caused by the rain and wind of a hurricane. Be aware, however, that a different (and higher) hurricane deductible will apply in a number of states, especially when it comes to wind effects. This list of states includes North Carolina and South Carolina, on whose coasts Isaias is expected to make landfall. Carolinians should contact their insurance company to confirm coverage, including when these higher deductibles are triggered.

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Full coverage protects your cars

If your vehicles are damaged by a hurricane, particularly following a flood or a storm surge, you are covered if you have what is called comprehensive coverage in your car insurance policy. This is the optional module that protects your car against threats such as theft, falling tree branches and flooding.

Fortunately, about 80% of car owners have “comprehensive” insurance, according to Mark Friedlander, director of corporate communications at the Insurance Information Institute. But if you happen to have dropped coverage for cost reasons, consider adding it back. You might even be able to make it in time for cover if Isaias hits your community, either shortly or as it moves north up the coast later in the week.

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Flood insurance takes time to get

Covering your property against flooding, whether from a hurricane or other weather conditions, requires a separate policy. And these can’t be bought if a hurricane is only days or even weeks away from hitting your area.

The primary source of coverage, the federal flood insurance program, requires that you apply at least 30 days before the date cover. Private insurers offering flood insurance could write new policies more quickly, said Friedlander, a spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute. But you shouldn’t expect to get a private flood policy in less than about 5 days, he adds.

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