FEMA: Flood insurance claims for Irma near 17,000 in Florida

Article Courtesy of The Orlando Sentinel

By Ron Hurtibise

Published September 25, 2017


If your home or business was damaged by storm surge or flooding during Hurricane Irma, National Flood Insurance Program director Roy Wright wants you to know how to get as much money as you can as quickly as possible.

Once you get back into your home, “take pictures of everything,” Wright said by phone from the Florida Keys on Friday. “Zoom in on brand names, model numbers and serial numbers.”


Document as much damage as possible. Victims with the most thorough documentation, he said, get the biggest emergency assistance checks — up to $20,000 — to help cover temporary housing and clean up.

Money to cover further clean up and to rebuild will come later, after claims are filed and insurance adjusters inspect the property, Wright said.

Wright, who oversees the flood insurance program as the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s deputy associate administrator for insurance and mitigation, toured damaged areas of Florida throughout the week, including Miami and Coconut Grove on Tuesday, Naples and Bonita Springs on Wednesday, Jacksonville and St. Augustine on Thursday and Marathon and Big Pine Key on Friday.

Still believe you don't need flood insurance?


The worst flood damage he saw was in the Keys, including a house in Marathon where water broke through hurricane-resistant impact glass and rose five feet. When it receded, it pulled the home’s furniture out through the doors. “They found it two houses behind them.”

Of 16,786 flood claims filed through Thursday, 3,969 were filed in Monroe County, Wright said. He expects that number to increase over the next two weeks. “Sometimes people will wait until the electricity comes back on to file,” he said. “We tell people to file their claims after it’s safe to go back.”


In the tricounty region, Miami-Dade residents have filed 1,870 claims, 829 have been filed in Broward County and 199 have come from Palm Beach County, according to FEMA data.

Wright said none of those numbers are surprising. “Plenty of other storms could have caused those kinds of losses,” he said.

Other counties with large numbers of flood insurance claims are Duval [1,514], Lee [1,426], Collier [1,364] and St. Johns [1,153]. Fewer than 200 claims have been filed in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Charlotte counties — an example of how the Tampa Bay region was spared the severe impact feared by forecasters.

Jeff Grady, CEO of the Florida Association of Insurance Agents, said he expected more flood claims to have been filed by now, considering the images of widespread storm surge in the Keys and the Jacksonville area.

“That also speaks to the fact too many people just don’t buy it,” Grady said. After Hurricane Harvey caused widespread flooding in the Houston region, an Associated Press analysis found just 42 percent of homes across Florida’s 38 coastal counties were covered.

Images of Harvey spurred a a sharp rise in flood insurance sales, but policies purchased through the National Flood Insurance Program require a 30-day waiting period and weren’t in effect before Irma.

Some were able to buy private flood coverage with waits as low as three days, Grady said.

Wright said none of the flooding from Irma’s storm surge remained in the homes he toured around the state this week.

He saw “pockets” of damage in Miami-Dade County, but nothing consistent along the waterfront. Coconut Grove had flooding but Coral Gables did not, he said.

In one Coconut Grove home, water rose 10 inches before receding, leaving six inches of muck throughout, he said. After the mud is shoveled out, the bottom four feet of drywall will have to be replaced.

Residents with flood insurance are insured up to $250,000 for their structure and up to $100,000 for contents, but not every claim will qualify for the maximum, he said. Typically a $30,000 to $40,000 claim will be paid out in 30 to 40 days while larger claims involving more extensive damage will take between 70 to 100 days, he said.

FEMA has about 1,000 adjusters working on claims in Florida, Wright said. In Texas, which sustained much more severe flooding from Hurricane Harvey, 2,600 adjusters are working on about 90,000 claims, he said.

FEMA doesn’t have a network of repair contractors, so policyholders are responsible for making sure companies they hire are licensed and bonded, Wright said. He suggested policyholders seek help from their insurance agents and avoid signing over benefits of their claims to contractors who refuse to commence work otherwise.

Irma provides a dramatic example of why people should buy flood insurance, Wright said. After severe flooding struck Louisiana last fall, the average payment from the National Flood Insurance Program was $86,000.

Homeowners who did not have flood insurance got an average $9,000 from FEMA disaster relief funds. Uninsured flood victims in Florida should register at www.disasterassistance.gov

“Those with insurance will be able to rebuild more fully and more quickly,” he said.