La insurance commissioner says Harvey highlights importance of flood insurance

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It is still too early to tell the full extent of the damage Harvey left behind after spending days pounding the gulf coast and it is also unclear how many people had flood insurance.

One Louisiana leader says it is the one decision that could have a big impact as people prepare to begin the recovery process.

Dangerous rescues continue across southwest Louisiana and southeast Texas Wednesday night. In Houston, flood waters swallowed up cars and shelters are filled with evacuees. Harvey's aftermath has locked the region in a state of crisis.

"There's more to come," said Texas Governor Greg Abbot. "The worst is not yet over for southeast Texas."

As people continue to be plucked from their homes, the worst, unfortunately, may not set in until much later when they start paying bills for the rebuilding process. It is something that can be made critically worse without flood insurance and a decision that many in the Louisiana are still wrestling with a year after historic flooding in August.

In the past five years, there has been a nine percent decrease in the number of homes and businesses in Houston with flood insurance.

Jim Donelon, Louisiana's Insurance Commissioner says it is a nationwide trend. He believes people choosing to go without flood insurance is a mistake and calls it a risk many in Louisiana are no longer willing to take.

"I'm not surprised," Donelon said. "In the Baton Rouge and Lafayette event it was like twelve percent of the properties were insured for flood. Thankfully that has doubled to 23 percent now."

In Harvey's wake, Donelon predicts many Texans will face the harsh reality of recovery depending solely on disaster money. He says the process is not pretty without flood insurance.

"What happens to most of those folks is they get a check that I think on average is $8,000 or $9,000," said Donelon. "They're also given a long-term, low-interest SBA loan which in effect sucks all of the equity out of their home."

In the past year and a half, rain events caused disaster declarations for 56 of Louisiana's 64 parishes. Donelon warns flooding is not just a local problem and says a number of claims with the National Flood Insurance Program have been filed in areas that do not typically see flooding.

"Twenty-five percent of their payments are made on properties that were considered low-risk," Donelon added.

Donelon believes lack of fear is to blame for fewer people getting a policy but says making sure your property is protected is a smart investment.

"It's the best insurance buy a property owner can make. It's no different in Louisiana in my opinion than anywhere else in America," said Donelon.

While funding for the NFIP is set to expire September 30, 2017, Donelon says Harvey's timing could spark more support in Congress to keep the program alive.

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