(TNS) - Jacksonville residents who saw Hurricane Matthew rough up the First Coast last year are facing Hurricane Irma with more experience and awareness – but not more insurance.
Although thousands of federal flood insurance claims were filed locally over Matthew’s damage, about 900 fewer policies were in force this summer in Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia, data from the federal National Flood Insurance Program show.
Enrollment in the program rose in St. Johns County and in Atlantic Beach and in Camden County, Ga., but generally fell or held flat over a string of other communities.
The drop, a little less than 1 percent since last year, adds another wrinkle to managing flooding from natural disasters. It also reflects a longer-term national drop in use of the federal program, by far the country’s largest source of flood insurance.
“People tend not to keep their flood policies over time because when the water doesn’t rise, they forget why they bought it,” Lynne McChristian, a Florida State University academic who works with the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute, said by email. “Our biggest threat to storm preparedness and recovery may be forgetfulness. “
Research at the University of Pennsylvania found that most of the flood insurance policies bought in 2006 weren’t in force just three years later.
But others who really need the insurance have decided they just can’t afford it.
Leaders of the 200-member Calvary Baptist Church in Brunswick, Ga., sought multiple bids after Matthew and were told they’d have to pay $39,000 yearly to insure their 81-year-old property near the marsh on the town’s eastern edge.
“There was no way this little church could pay $39,000 on flood insurance,” said the Rev. Don Spires, who has spent the past year raising money and working on plans to repair damage from Matthew’s floodwaters.
Whether anyone else would face similar financial hurdles is hard to know. Buildings in low-risk areas have premiums of just a few hundred dollars yearly that are easy to calculate based on the value of the building and contents. But high-risk properties get special pricing that can quickly reach the thousands and won’t be known until the building is closely examined.
Spires said the fact that his church asked about insurance after it had been flooded once might have also driven up the price.
Water that stood as much as two feet deep in parts of the church caused damage that’s expected to cost about $375,000 to repair. The church has raised about $185,000 of that so far and is trying to sell some donated land for another $75,000.
But with a string of repairs still not done, Spires said, the church had to seek cheaper protection fast when Irma showed up in forecasts. A carpenter started work Wednesday on a system to seal the church’s seven double doors behind protective plywood covered with waterproof sealer and add new rubber barriers beneath the bottoms of all the doors.
Weak spots where water worked through the walls are being sealed, too, including a long crack in the church’s west wall. A “huge crack” in the sanctuary floor was also supposed to be worked on to keep moisture at bay.
And then, like the rest of the region around Jacksonville, people at the church will hope for the best.
Steve Patterson: (904) 359-4263
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