Another disaster plaguing the state, widespread flooding in Colorado is being viewed as an “unprecedented” event in which losses will take quite some time to calculate – although there are more immediate lessons to be learned.
Thousands are missing, tens of thousands of properties have been damaged or destroyed and at least six people have been confirmed dead, according to authorities.
Among the spate of bad news there is some good news. One of the worst hit counties in the state, Boulder, is where there are the most flood insurance policies are in place under the National Flood Insurance Program.
And according to NFIP’s Floodsmart.gov website, some 15,700 of the 20,000 NFIP policies in Colorado are in place in counties affected.
And if there can be any further good news from the situation – which was declared a disaster on Sunday by President Barack Obama – it may be that this, the latest in a string of disasters to hit the state in the last few years, is helping raise awareness of the importance of insurance and prompting policyholders to find out just what their insurance does and does not cover, according to Carole Walker, executive director with the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.
“I get weary of using the word unprecedented, but it is a historic, unprecedented event that has affected 11 counties of Colorado,” Walker said. “All possible forces have come together to make this an unprecedented event for Colorado.”
Walker has had a lot to talk about in the last few years. The massive Black Forest Fire earlier this summer was preceded last year by the Waldo Canyon and High Park fires of 2012, which combined for a total of $567 million in losses, and the hail storm in June of that year caused $321 million in insured losses.
After consecutive years of record-breaking wildfires and hail losses all measured in terms of hundreds-of-billions-of dollars, insureds and the uninsured are taking away an essential message, according to Walker.
“Anecdotally is seems more people are calling their agent, doing their insurance review, and paying attention to how much insurance they have and what it covers and what it doesn’t cover,” she said. “Any time you have a big event, it is a teachable moment.”
She added, “It is not the way we want to have lessons learned, but certainly there is a heightened awareness.”
However, despite the heavy NFIP coverage in many affected areas, it’s likely many losses suffered by Colorado residents and businesses will not be covered, Walker said.
“We know that there will be many homeowners, renters and businesses that just don’t have flood insurance,” Walker said.
Additionally, Walker believes that while a number of properties will be covered, there are countless separate policies required for contents within those properties that aren’t in place.
According to estimates released by the state more than 19,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed, and 12,000 people have been evacuated. Roughly 1,200 people remain unaccounted for.
Numbers on losses are not expected for at least another week, or longer as the flooding continues to spread onto the plains, said Randy Welch, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We just got no kind of numbers really to give,” Welch said.
When those numbers are released they will be released to the state, which can decide how to distribute that information, he said, noting that estimates are being made more difficult to calculate as the event continues to unfold.
“It’s actually a growing event,” he added.
There are now 15 counties where FEMA is giving direct federal assistance, including search and rescue teams, commodities, personnel. FEMA has called on nearly 400 of its own personnel to work on and help coordinate federal disaster relief efforts, Welch said.
Other federal departments involved in the operations include Department of Defense, Environmental Protection Agency, Health and Human Services, Department of Agriculture, Small Business Administration, Department of Energy and Army Corp of Engineers.
Obama’s disaster declaration makes federal funding available to designated counties, assistance which can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners.