ATLANTA, Ga. -- It rained and rained. And rained some more. Then, kept on raining.
The unthinkable became the undeniable: a portion of I-20 west of Atlanta was under water, parking lots became ponds and thousands of homes - many of them beyond established floodplain boundaries - were damaged or destroyed.
Historic heavy rains beginning September 18 triggered widespread flooding across north and central Georgia, leading to a Major Disaster Declaration for individuals in 17 counties.
"This flood shows us you don't have to be in a high-risk floodplain to be flooded," said Susan Wilson, chief of the Floodplain Management and Insurance Branch of the Mitigation Division at the Federal Emergency Management Agency Region IV office in Atlanta. "Mother Nature doesn't read the flood maps very well."
Homeowners who live in a floodplain (or Special Flood Hazard Area) must buy flood insurance if they have a mortgage from a federally regulated lender, but insurance offered by FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is available to everyone in more than 20,800 participating communities nationwide and nearly everyone in the 17 declared Georgia counties.
"Everyone lives in a floodplain," said Wilson, "and should consider flood insurance to protect their property."
Replacing drywall, baseboards, carpet, furniture and making necessary repairs after just three inches of water gets into your house can cost an estimated $7,800, according to the National Flood Insurance Program. The average flood claim is more than $33,000. The deeper the floodwaters, the deeper you must dig into your pocket. Eighteen inches of water means repairs to the electrical system and heating and cooling system. It means replacement of doors, appliances and cabinetry. Total costs could top $25,000.
Flood insurance covers homeowners, business owners and renters for losses typically not covered by homeowners' policies.
"Flood insurance claims are paid even if a disaster is not declared by the President," Wilson said. "A flood insurance claim is your money to repair the flood damage. If you receive disaster assistance funds, it will most likely be a loan that must be repaid with interest."
There are more than 91,000 NFIP policies in force across Georgia and nearly 31,000 of those were bought by consumers living or working outside a high-risk floodplain where the purchase of flood insurance is not required for a mortgage.
There are limits to NFIP insurance. Homeowners can insure their home for up to $250,000 and its contents for up to $100,000. Renters can cover their belongings for up to $100,000. Nonresidential property owners can insure a building and its contents for up to $500,000 each. The average homeowners flood insurance premium is a little more than $550 a year. There is normally a 30-day waiting period when purchasing a new policy.
More information on the National Flood Insurance Program, including an interactive guide to assess your flood risk, is available online at www.FloodSmart.gov.
FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.