Thousands of Homes Keep Flooding, Yet They Keep Being Rebuilt Again
The U.S. National Flood Insurance Program, which holds policies for more than 5 million homes, is $23 billion in debt after a string of natural disasters this century. As climate change further strains the program, analysts say it is time to shift its focus from rebuilding to mitigating risk.
More than 2,100 properties across the U.S. enrolled in the National Flood Insurance Program have flooded and been rebuilt more than 10 times since 1978, according to a new analysis of insurance data by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). One home in Batchelor, Louisiana has flooded 40 times over the past four decades, receiving $428,379 in insurance payments. More than 30,000 properties in the program, run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have flooded multiple times over the years. Those homes, known as “severe repetitive loss properties,” make up just 0.6 percent of federal flood insurance policies. But they account for 10.6 percent of the program’s claims — totaling $5.5 billion in payments.
The new data illustrates the serious problems facing the nation’s flood insurance program. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which currently provides policies for more than 5 million American homes, is $23 billion in debt following a string of major natural disasters over the last decades, including as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.
Six U.S. states have experienced deadly flooding in the last 15 months, including Texas, South Carolina, and, most recently, Louisiana. Scientists and policy experts warn that as seas continue to rise and extreme weather becomes more frequent as a result of climate change, more properties will flood more often, causing further strain on an already financially stressed system.
“The way we have dealt with properties that are at a high risk of flooding is massively expensive, of limited utility at reducing the nation’s risk from flood damages, and is unworkable as a solution in the face of sea level rise and rising risk of flooding due to climate change,” said Rob Moore, a flood policy analyst at the NRDC, which obtained the records from FEMA using a Freedom of Information Act request.
Of the 30,000 homes analyzed by the NRDC, the average cumulative payout per property as a result of repeated flooding was $181,444. Nearly half of these repetitive loss properties have been paid more in flood insurance money than their houses are worth, the NRDC found.
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Image credit: NRDC