About 40,000 homes have been damaged by the devastating floods in Louisiana.
LOUISIANA (CNN)– Repairing or replacing them could be particularly challenging for the more than 66,000 people who’ve already filed to get help from FEMA, because a majority of them probably don’t have flood insurance.
According to FEMA, which oversees the National Flood Insurance program, only 42% of structures in the state’s high-risk areas are covered for floods.
What’s more, many of the areas hit by these historic storms are flooding out for the first time. And flood insurance outside of designated flood zones is rare — only 12.5% of those homes have coverage.
That was the case for Janet Pitts. She didn’t have flood insurance because her home is not in a flood area. But that didn’t stop it from filling with five feet of water.
“Financially, we are going to be destroyed if we don’t get a decent amount of assistance,” she said. “We are just going to have to start all over again.”
Pitts has lived in Louisiana for more than 30 years, and knows about flooding in the state, but this is her first time living through it.
“Everything was pretty much paid for. Now, I have to start all over.”
She was jolted awake when her neighbors in Monticello, La., banged on her door early Saturday morning. The nearby canal was overflowing and water was steadily moving toward their houses.
“I am only five feet tall,” said Pitts, 51. “At that point, the water came up to above my knees.”
Her husband quickly left to get sandbags to protect the house. When he came back and they placed the bags around their home, the water had risen two more feet.
They grabbed a few belongings, moved some important documents to higher ground in the attic and left for her brother’s house in an adjacent subdivision. His street also flooded almost two hours later.
They’ve been staying with a friend ever since. They returned home to devastation on Tuesday.
“It was just an unexplainable sight. It was devastating, and the smell was horrible.”
The floors are destroyed, the refrigerator had floated into the middle of the kitchen and many of the walls will have to be replaced.
“We lost everything.”
Though there was a surge in flood coverage after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the number of people with flood insurance nationally has declined 9% since 2009 in the face of rising premiums.
Lenders typically require federal flood insurance on any mortgage written in high-risk areas, but there are numerous reasons that many homeowners don’t have it. They may own their home outright, or the federal classification of the risk in their area may have been raised since they originally bought the home. Or a policy may have lapsed due to nonpayment without the lender becoming aware.
But the broader problem can be that much of the uninsured flood damage happens in areas that were judged not to be high risk, and where homeowners never thought they needed flood coverage and weren’t required to have it.
That was the case for Pitts. She’s lived in the home with her husband and 23-year-old son for nearly three years. When she was house hunting, she purposefully avoided flood-designated areas.
“[Flood insurance] wasn’t a requirement. Had it been one, I would have had it,” she said.