A rude shock for homeowners: Insurance may not cover floods

Posted: July 14, 2004

As South Jersey homeowners scrambled for help yesterday from insurance companies and cleanup firms, many discovered that there will be no silver linings.

"Damage by floodwaters is not covered under most homeowners' policies," said Ryan Salonia, a spokesman for State Farm Insurance Cos.

The National Flood Insurance Program sells federally subsidized flood insurance through regular agents, but coverage is not mandatory outside established flood zones.

"A good part of that area isn't in a flood zone," said Patrick Breslin, a spokesman for New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Co. Of 46 customers who called the Trenton insurer yesterday to try to make a claim, only two had flood insurance, he said.

Manufacturers Insurance also towed 22 flooded cars yesterday to inspect them for damage, Breslin said. His advice: Do not drive a car if water has reached seat level.

Flooding falls under the optional "comprehensive" part of auto policies covering hazards other than crashes.

For homeowners, getting cleanup help was also a trial. "Last night, we got over 60 calls," said Pete Smyth, a ServiceMaster franchisee in Cherry Hill. "We have been going nonstop ever since."

At the Adam Group, a Cherry Hill restoration company, "it is mostly basements," said Charlene Coady, the office manager. "To get everyone taken care of is going to take days."

Insurers advise homeowners to dry out homes as quickly as possible - pulling up carpets and pads and placing fans in basements to circulate air - to prevent mold growth.

If flooding is severe, insurers recommend pumping out water in stages and over days to reduce the risk that external pressure on the walls causes a collapse.

For the future, consider flood insurance if you do not have it, said Philip Clark, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which administers national flood insurance.

Michael McDyer, an Allstate agent in Medford, described himself yesterday as a bearer of bad news.

"Something like this happens, and people regret that they don't have the right kind of coverage," he said.

Contact staff writer Todd Mason at 215-854-5679 or tmason@phillynews.com.

Insurance Tips

These are suggestions for homeowners affected by storms.

Report losses as soon as possible to your insurance company or agent.

Photograph or videotape water levels inside and outside the home to establish the severity of the flooding.

Dry out the home as quickly as possible.

Separate damaged and undamaged goods. Do not throw anything away until an adjuster sees it.

Prepare an inventory of damaged property for the adjuster, and keep a copy for yourself.

If you cannot stay in the home, let your insurance agent know how to reach you.

Keep receipts. Temporary lodging and interim cleanup expenses, such as renting pumps or fans, are reimbursable.

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