Fort Myers area couple see six figure damage to home after two feet of flooding from Irma. Domnick and Frances Minella lose possessions in Hurricane Irma flooding of Orange River
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Anita Dennis talked on the phone with her homeowner’s insurance company, her furrowed brow expressing more than words could say.
The 72-year-old widow carried flood insurance on her home years ago, then let it lapse after learning her neighborhood in The Villas in south Fort Myers was only expected to flood every 100 years.
The house, built in 1973, has flooded twice in the past month.
It is in Storm Surge Zone B, property records show, which indicates it is outside the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s “Special Flood Hazard Area.” Still, the zone has a moderate flood hazard.
Dennis shared her plight Monday, from the sweltering sunroom of her gutted, still-powerless home.
“I never expected this to happen,” she said. “I’m here 25 years. I’ve never had water like this. Never, never, never.”
More: You may not live in Florida or Texas, but your insurance rates could spike because of hurricanes
More: Superstorm Sandy victims warn Irma, Harvey survivors it’s about to get worse
A rainmaker brought 4 inches of water into the 1,800-square-foot home a few weeks ago, then Hurricane Irma brought 7 inches of water inside.
“I’ve lost flooring. I’m going to lose drywall. There is mold,” she said. “I don’t know if I can save my kitchen cupboards. It was a combination of things that led to a worst-case scenario.”
That scenario has driven her into a cousin’s nearby condo. Her long-term future is uncertain, along with thousands of other Floridians whose homes have been ravaged by floodwaters brought on by the hurricane.
The south Fort Myers home of Anita Dennis, left, was severely damaged in flooding from a late August storm and Hurricane Irma. Arturo Maita, right, a member of her church, has volunteered his time along with his wife Ruth in cleanup efforts at her home in The Villas neighborhood. (Photo: Andrew West/The News-Press)
Property owners in trouble
Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, has more than 50 years of experience in the industry. In the 1970s, he ran the National Flood Insurance Program, which provides flood insurance to homeowners, renters and business owners.
“From an insurance point of view, I first thought Irma was going to be a major wind event and then I began to realize it was going to be a major wind event and a major flood event,” he said.
Hunter expressed concern for financially strapped homeowners who live in more inland communities such as Lehigh Acres who did not carry flood insurance and who may already have been just scraping by.
More: Hurricane Irma: What you need to know about flood insurance
“Being poor, some people have high mortgages with little equity,” he said. “What happens next? It all depends on how damaged the house is, how much money the family has, how much equity in the home they have in terms of what they do.”
Hunter admonished FEMA for doing a poor job of ensuring those homeowners mandated to carry flood insurance are doing so.
“FEMA has done a terrible job of monitoring the banks to make sure they have flood insurance,” he said. “Something is really, really wrong.”
Property owners, he said, make two fundamental errors in thinking when it comes to flood insurance:
No. 1: “It won’t happen to me, I’m further away from the water. They assume it won’t happen to them because they haven’t seen water anywhere near where they live and they’ve been there for 30 years.”
No. 2: “Since I’m further away from the water, if it happens to me it’s going to be so bad the government is going to come in and give me disaster relief. It might be a small grant, but the bulk of disaster relief is a loan. Those two things together really impact people.”
With 335,000 insurance claims representing $1.9 billion in property losses, Hurricane Irma has already exceeded the claims and losses from the two hurricanes (Matthew and Hermine) that hit Florida last year, the state Office of Insurance Regulation reported Monday.
The heaviest claims activity: Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Collier and Lee.
That’s just for starters. Hunter thinks Irma may surpass Hurricane Andrew’s $26 billion damage cost, but “it’s going to be close.”
Despite back-to-back hurricanes hammering the United States, Hunter said the homeowner’s insurance industry should be fine.
“There’s some reports they could raise rates, but that’s crazy,” he said. “The models to set the rates already contain in them storms in the averages that are like Irma and Harvey. They shouldn’t have any impact on the pricing. There’s no reason for them to raise rates or cancel people’s insurance.”
Floridians drop flood coverage
An Associated Press analysis in early September — before Irma battered Florida — shows a steep drop in flood insurance policies across the state.
In just five years, the number of federal flood insurance policies in Florida has fallen by 15%, according to FEMA data.
Property owners in Florida still buy far more federal flood insurance than any other state — 1.7 million policies, covering about $42 billion in assets — but most residents in hazard zones are badly exposed.
Florida has roughly 2.5 million homes in hazard zones, more than three times that of any other state, FEMA estimates. Yet, across Florida’s 38 coastal counties, just 42% of these homes are covered.
Florida’s overall flood insurance rate for hazard-zone homes is 41%. Fannie Mae ostensibly requires mortgage lenders to make sure property owners buy this insurance to qualify for federally backed loans, and yet in 59% of the cases, that insurance isn’t being paid for.
The declines in coverage started after Congress approved a price hike in 2012, making policies more expensive. Maps of some high-risk areas were redrawn, removing a requirement that these homeowners get flood insurance.
About seven of 10 homeowners have federally backed mortgages, and if they live in a high-risk area, they still are required to have flood insurance. But many let their policies slip without the lender noticing; loans also get sold and repackaged, paperwork gets lost and new lenders don’t follow up.
FEMA, which is ultimately responsible for enforcing flood insurance requirements, did not respond to an email seeking comment from its Washington office. The private flood insurance market is small — only about 20,000 policies in Florida.
John Dickson, a flood insurance expert based in Montana, said a common scenario has been playing out after hurricanes Irma and Harvey.
“People that need flood insurance are not the ones who carry it,” he said. “You have too many people exposed to this. We as an industry and a community need to do more.”
Homeowners face a big misconception when interpreting the flood risk. For example, FEMA defines a “non-special flood hazard area” as an area that is in a “moderate-to-low risk flood zone.”
“The term ‘lower risk’ has been translated to ‘no risk’ and as a result there’s an imaginary line that this is where the flooding stops, so I don’t need flood insurance,” he said. “The water doesn’t know where those lines are. It goes until it stops moving. Nearly one in four flood claims occur in these areas.”
In many cases, homeowners who live in more inland areas are limited financially. Such status makes it even more important to carry flood insurance, Dickson said.
“If I have limited resources and I have to be extremely careful with the money I do have, do I have the wherewithal to withstand an Irma if it makes my house uninhabitable?” he said. “If I don’t have that financial cushion, this is what insurance is for. Homeowners need to work with their agents to find out what their options are.”
All hope is not lost for many people facing losses not covered by insurance. Property owners may be eligible for FEMA disaster assistance that could total $5,000 to $15,000 Dickson said. Other options for business owners, homeowners and renters include getting a loan — which require carrying flood insurance — through the U.S. Small Business Administration.
While it may be too late to help some homeowners impacted by Irma, Dickson hopes such a disaster will prompt consumers to make adjustments to protect from the hurricanes to come.
“Property owners are very interested in insurance issues when the water is rising after a hurricane,” he said. “What every person in Florida should be asking is, ‘What do I need to do to protect the treasures of my life?’ Think about that when the sun is shining, not when water is 2 feet deep in the living room.”
Dennis, the south Fort Myers homeowner, doesn’t have a sense how expensive it will be to repair the house as she weighs how much she can spend on a fixed income. Her windstorm policy will not cover most of the damage, she has been told, since flooding is the culprit for the vast majority of her issues.
“I think it’s going to be a lot, that’s why I hope FEMA can help,” she said.
In the meantime, St. Michael Lutheran Church has been a big help.
Arturo and Ruth Maita from her church worked to peel off the popcorn ceiling Monday as Dennis pointed out damage.
“I’m too old now,” she said. “I just can’t do it all. These are the times when you need that support.”
While roof damage appeared to be minor, the ceiling may be bowing slightly. Redoing it is a measure Dennis felt necessary as she prepares the property for whatever comes next.
“I own the property, but I have to restore it if I’m going to sell it,” she said. “I don’t have a lot of options.”
Follow Casey Logan on Twitter: @caseylo
By the Numbers
98: percent of U.S. counties impacted by a flooding event
$43,000: average flood claim payout from the National Flood Insurance Program
$700: average annual flood insurance policy premium cost
Source: Federal Emergency Management Agency
Drone video reveals some of the hardest hit areas in the Florida Keys | 1:50
Drone video from Cudjoe Key, Upper Sugarloaf Key, Summerland Key and Sunshine Key show how some of the hardest his parts of the Florida Keys are fairing days after hurricane Irma made landfall.
Rodney White, Michael Zamora/The Register
1 of 34
Irma delivers serious punch to Florida citrus | 0:58
Hurricane Irma dealt Florida’s iconic crop a devastating blow, destroying nearly all the citrus in some groves and seriously damaging others. U.S. Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio visited groves in Lake Wales and heard from growers. (Sept. 13)
2 of 34
Raw: aerials of Irma damage on US Virgin Islands | 1:07
Aerial video shows the aftermath of Hurricane Irma on St. Thomas in the U.S Virgin Islands. (Sept. 12)
3 of 34
Before and after aerials of Irma’s dramatic impact | 0:52
Drone footage provides a more broad view of the the damage Hurricane Irma inflicted on south Florida communities.
4 of 34
Barbuda flattened by Irma | 0:39
Aerial views filmed by British broadcaster Sky news on Monday revealed the extent of damage on the eastern Caribbean Island of Barbuda, after Hurricane Irma swept through it, leaving a trail of destruction. (Sept. 12)
5 of 34
Plane pushed sideways by Irma crosswinds | 0:39
Irma’s gale force winds kept the plane from landing in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
6 of 34
Flooding and structural damage for a Clermont neighborhood after Hurricane Irma | 1:24
Lorri Walters, of Clermont feels lucky that the mobile home she shares with her mom in the Emerald Lakes Mobile Village was not destroyed by Hurricane Irma.
Kelly Jordan, USA TODAY
7 of 34
Hurricane Irma wrecks southwest Florida neighborhoods | 0:36
Drone footage shows the destruction left by Hurricane Irma in the Leawood Lakes and Cape Sable Lakes neighborhoods of Naples. Video by Rodney White and Michael Zamora.
8 of 34
Rescue crews battle record Jacksonville flooding | 0:47
Jacksonville, Florida, authorities are telling residents near the St. Johns river to leave quickly as floodwaters rise. (Sept. 11)
9 of 34
Close call: Georgia driver in Hurricane Irma almost gets hit by tree | 0:39
Talk about a close call! One man in Georgia was driving amidst Irma’s wind and rain when a tree started falling on the road in front of him!
10 of 34
Time-lapse captures Irma’s fury on Miami Beach | 1:20
Time-lapse video captured by the Associated Press shows the effects Hurricane Irma had on Miami Beach from Saturday to Monday. (Sept. 11)
11 of 34
Crews, residents begin cleaning up after storm | 2:20
Hurricane Irma veered slightly right, giving Tampa area officials less to worry about in terms of storm surge from the Gulf of Mexico, but causing slightly more storm damage inland in places like Polk County. (Sept. 11)
12 of 34
Miami residents return to upended mobile homes | 1:12
Although Miami was spared a big brunt of Hurricane Irma, mobile home residents here are not breathing a sigh of relief as they return to their now damaged or completely destroyed homes. Colette Luke has more.
Video provided by Reuters
13 of 34
This is what Floridians faced once daylight broke | 1:09
Daylight revealed the scope of destruction Hurricane Irma caused across Florida.
14 of 34
Aerial tour shows damaged buildings in Key Largo | 1:11
The full breadth of the damage from Hurricane Irma remains unclear, particularly in the hard-hit Keys, where communications and travel were still difficult. An aerial tour of Key Largo showed toppled buildings and damaged boats. (Sept. 11)
15 of 34
Drone video shows Hurricane Irma damage in Naples | 1:25
Flooded streets and ripped roofs can be seen above the Holiday Manor neighborhood in East Naples, Fla.
Des Moines Register
16 of 34
Helicopter surveys damage in Key West, Fla. | 1:11
An aerial view from a helicopter shows damage done to some homes in Key West, Florida, after Hurricane Irma made landfall just after 9 a.m. about 20 miles outside the island city. (Sept. 11)
17 of 34
Couple survey their flooded Bonita Springs home | 1:03
Kelly McClenthen and boyfriend Daniel Harrison put on waders to enter her neighborhood in Bonita Springs after Irma, and they needed them. (Sept. 11)
18 of 34
Hurricane Irma tears path through Florida | 1:19
Hurricane Irma took aim at heavily populated areas of central Florida on Monday as it carved a path of destruction through the state.
Video provided by Reuters
19 of 34
Hurricane Irma leaves giant holes in Miami boats | 0:40
Boats in a marina near Miami City Hall were severely damaged by Hurricane Irma.
20 of 34
Transformer sparks fly amid Hurricane Irma landfall | 0:25
Video shot in Boyton Beach, Florida, shows the transformer sparking as Hurricane Irma makes landfall in Florida.
21 of 34
Irma floods Miami, destroys homes in Palm Bay | 1:38
A monster Hurricane Irma roared into Florida Sunday with 130 mph winds, flooding streets and knocking out power to more than 1.5 million homes. In Palm Bay, a tornado triggered by Irma’s approach destroyed a number of mobile homes. (Sept. 10)
22 of 34
Hurricane Irma pummels Florida Keys | 0:40
Hurricane Irma pummels Florida Keys.
Video provided by AFP
23 of 34
Irma winds collapse crane atop Miami high-rise | 1:02
A crane atop a high-rise under construction in downtown Miami collapsed Sunday amid strong winds from Hurricane Irma. The crane collapsed in a bayfront area filled with hotels and high-rise condo and office buildings. (Sept. 10)
24 of 34
Irma peels off roof, pounds Florida Keys | 0:30
Hurricane Irma surges through the Florida Keys with damaging winds.
25 of 34
Cubans wade, boat through downtown Havana after Hurricane Irma | 1:18
Wave of up to 36 feet smashed into Havana, Cuba, forcing residents to navigate the streets in boats in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
Video provided by Reuters
26 of 34
Crews make dramatic rescue off Florida coast | 0:37
Rescuers with the Martin County Sheriff’s Department pluck boaters from their vessel stranded among the outer bands of Hurricane Irma. Video provided by Reuters
27 of 34
Hurricane Irma leaves behind massive destruction in Cuba | 0:39
Hurricane Irma caused massive damage as it pounded Cuba’s northern coast on Saturday with residents left reeling in the aftermath.
Video provided by Reuters
28 of 34
Woman tours Irma devastated Anguilla | 2:04
As Hurricane Irma prepares to hit Florida, those on the Caribbean island of Anguilla are assessing the devastating effect the storm had on their island. Vanessa Croft Thompson, a teacher in Anguilla, says the storm brought mass destruction to the island. (Sept. 9)
29 of 34
Raw: Scenes of devastation in St. Martin | 1:25
Dutch military authorities rushed aid and assistance to the Caribbean island of St. Martin on Thursday after Hurricane Irma battered the region. (Sept. 8)
30 of 34
Raw: Drone footage shows devastation on Tortola | 1:18
Drone footage shows widespread devastation on Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands. (Sept. 8)
31 of 34
Irma waves crash through house | 0:20
A man on the Caribbean island of Anguilla videos waves crashes through his house as Hurricane Irma devastates the island. (Sept. 9)
32 of 34
Saint-Martin Island ravaged by Hurricane Irma in Dutch Navy video | 1:03
The Royal Netherlands Navy says Hurricane Irma caused ‘enormous damage’ to the Dutch side of Saint-Martin Island. Video provided by Reuters
33 of 34
Heartache in British Virgin Islands after Irma | 0:44
The governor of the British Virgin Islands on Friday said he declared a state of emergency after Hurricane Irma left a string of Caribbean islands devastated. In a radio address, Gov. Gus Jaspert said he was “heartbroken” by the destruction. (Sept. 8)
34 of 34
Last VideoNext Video
Drone video reveals some of the hardest hit areas in the Florida Keys
Irma delivers serious punch to Florida citrus
Raw: aerials of Irma damage on US Virgin Islands
Before and after aerials of Irma’s dramatic impact
Barbuda flattened by Irma
Plane pushed sideways by Irma crosswinds
Flooding and structural damage for a Clermont neighborhood after Hurricane Irma
Hurricane Irma wrecks southwest Florida neighborhoods
Rescue crews battle record Jacksonville flooding
Close call: Georgia driver in Hurricane Irma almost gets hit by tree
Time-lapse captures Irma’s fury on Miami Beach
Crews, residents begin cleaning up after storm
Miami residents return to upended mobile homes
This is what Floridians faced once daylight broke
Aerial tour shows damaged buildings in Key Largo
Drone video shows Hurricane Irma damage in Naples
Helicopter surveys damage in Key West, Fla.
Couple survey their flooded Bonita Springs home
Hurricane Irma tears path through Florida
Hurricane Irma leaves giant holes in Miami boats
Transformer sparks fly amid Hurricane Irma landfall
Irma floods Miami, destroys homes in Palm Bay
Hurricane Irma pummels Florida Keys
Irma winds collapse crane atop Miami high-rise
Irma peels off roof, pounds Florida Keys
Cubans wade, boat through downtown Havana after Hurricane Irma
Crews make dramatic rescue off Florida coast
Hurricane Irma leaves behind massive destruction in Cuba
Woman tours Irma devastated Anguilla
Raw: Scenes of devastation in St. Martin
Raw: Drone footage shows devastation on Tortola
Irma waves crash through house
Saint-Martin Island ravaged by Hurricane Irma in Dutch Navy video
Heartache in British Virgin Islands after Irma
Read or Share this story: https://usat.ly/2yd8utj