No flood coverage available from policies bought after May 2PIERRE — People who bought flood insurance at the last minute after learning of plans to release record amounts of water through the Missouri River reservoir system will not have coverage for damage caused by the rising water, a federal official said Tuesday.
By: CHET BROKAW, Associated Press
PIERRE — People who bought flood insurance at the last minute after learning of plans to release record amounts of water through the Missouri River reservoir system will not have coverage for damage caused by the rising water, a federal official said Tuesday.
Barb Fitzpatrick, a senior flood plain specialist for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said June 1 is the official start of the flood because that’s when the Garrison Dam in North Dakota began to release more water. Flood insurance underwritten by the federal government does not take effect until 30 days after it’s purchased, so no policies bought after May 2 will cover damage from the high water expected to last for a month or two. That’s the case even if the damage happens 30 or more days after the official start, she said.
Low-lying areas in Bismarck, N.D., and the South Dakota cities of Pierre, Fort Pierre and Dakota Dunes face rising water as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers increases flows through dams on the Missouri River to get rid of water from rains of up to 8 inches that fell last month in Wyoming, eastern Montana and western North Dakota and South Dakota.
State, federal and local government agencies have built levees and taken other steps to protect homes and businesses that could be flooded.
Traditional insurance policies for homeowners and renters do not cover flood damage. The National Flood Insurance Program, a part of FEMA, underwrites flood insurance policies sold by commercial insurance companies.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard said he is seeking clarification from FEMA on what might happen if the corps decides later to increase river flows beyond what has already been announced. If that qualifies as a new flood, it might mean policies bought later would cover damage caused by those higher-than-expected flows, he said.
Daugaard said the 30-day wait makes sense.
“If I know there’s going to be a flood here tomorrow, I can’t go out and buy insurance today, suffer the damage tomorrow and then get coverage,” the governor said.
Fitzpatrick said flood insurance coverage in South Dakota is very low. Only 38 policies were in effect before June 1 in Pierre, where 800 homes and businesses are threatened, and another 89 were in effect in Fort Pierre, where more than 400 houses are threatened, she said. Dakota Dunes and other unincorporated areas of Union County have 173 policies, while incorporated North Sioux City has 33.
In North Dakota, 456 policies were in effect in Bismarck and 79 were in effect in Mandan. In contrast, 6,721 policies were in effect in Fargo, which has seen repeated spring flooding in recent years, Fitzpatrick said.
Flood insurance rates are the same, no matter what commercial insurance company issues a policy, Fitzpatrick said. People who live outside a flood plain can get insurance at low rates, while premiums within flood plains depend on how buildings are constructed, she said.
FEMA reports that the average flood insurance policy costs about $600 a year. Flooding is the most common natural disaster in the nation, and the average flood insurance claim paid in the past decade was $48,000.
Meanwhile, South Dakota officials said Tuesday the levee system was largely complete in Pierre and Fort Pierre and holding back water from low-lying areas. The water has crested in both cities.
Joe Lowe, commander of the emergency unit working in Dakota Dunes, said more than 80 percent of the levee system in that community has reached its planned height. He said the Dakota Dunes levees could be finished by Wednesday, well before the expected crest June 14.
The river has risen enough to begin hitting parts of the Dakota Dunes levee, Lowe said.
“I can’t guarantee the levee system will hold, but I have got confidence it will,” he said.
North Dakota National Guard commander David Sprynczynatyk said Tuesday the river’s crest in Bismarck and Mandan will likely be a foot below earlier forecasts. He said the crest should settle between 19 and 19.5 feet, while the levee system was designed to protect against a crest of 20.6 feet.
Daugaard said he has asked the U.S. Coast Guard to ban boating in the 60-mile stretch from Gavin’s Point Dam to where the Missouri River merges with the Big Sioux River at the Iowa border. A part of the Big Sioux also should be closed due to fast water and debris, he said.
“There are what many people are calling missiles, in river parlance, on the river,” the governor said. “Everything from refrigerators to propane tanks to logs to parts of decks are flowing down the river.”