LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The recent flooding in Arkansas has underscored a painful truth: flooding can occur anywhere, at any time. And with hurricane season already under way, Arkansas could be at risk of flooding again.
In fact, flooding is America's most common natural disaster. Yet homeowner insurance policies do not cover flood damage.
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) offers federally backed insurance to property owners and renters in Arkansas communities that participate in the NFIP. Those communities have agreed to adopt and enforce floodplain ordinances that meet or exceed FEMA building requirements in the Special Flood Hazard Areas to reduce the risk of flooding.
Nationwide, nearly 21,000 communities participate in the NFIP, with 403 of those in Arkansas. As of May 31, more than 19,660 flood insurance policies were in force in the state. The NFIP is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and policies are sold through private insurance agents throughout Arkansas.
Many people decline to buy flood insurance because they believe they cannot qualify for it, or that it will cost more than they can afford.
"We understand people's concerns, particularly in this tight economy, but you can buy flood insurance, and it doesn't have to be expensive," said Diana Kidder, a FEMA insurance specialist now working in Little Rock.
Others mistakenly believe flood insurance is not available to them because their neighborhood has never flooded. That is not the case.
More than 25 percent of claims paid are from areas at medium or low risk of flooding. In these areas, NFIP flood insurance can be purchased for as little as $129 a year for a building and its contents or $49 for contents only.
"Don't let anyone tell you that you can't buy flood insurance unless you live in a high-risk flood zone," said Linda Delamare of FEMA's Floodplain Management and Insurance Branch in Denton, Texas. "Everyone lives in a flood zone to one degree or another.
Homes can be insured against flood damage for up to $250,000 and commercial buildings insured for up to $500,000. Policies can be written to include contents coverage up to $100,000 for homes and $500,000 for business owners' contents. Renters can insure their personal property for up to $100,000. The average homeowner's premium for flood insurance is less than $570 a year - a bargain considering that just five inches of water in a home can cause more than $11,000 in damage.
"It's important to note that federal disasters are declared in less than half of flooding events," Delamare said. "NFIP claims, on the other hand, are paid regardless of whether a disaster is declared."
Due to the 30-day waiting period, NFIP policies become effective 30 days after the premium is paid and will remain in effect for a year.
"Don't wait until the weather forecast calls for flooding before you decide to buy," Kidder cautioned. "By then, it's too late. By purchasing an NFIP policy now, you'll have peace of mind knowing your property is covered when the next flood event occurs."
For more information on NFIP or for a list of Arkansas agents who sell flood insurance, consumers should call 1-888-379-9531 or click www.FloodSmart.gov. The insurance agents and specialists at the toll-free number can also provide information on communities that participate in the NFIP and on how an individual's property is zoned.
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.