Washington Insurance Commissioner Warns of Flood Danger

September 28, 2009

With the fall rainy season fast approaching, and a weakened dam in the region, Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler is urging property insurers to tell their customers in King County’s Green River Valley how to get flood insurance.

State and local officials are concerned about the Howard Hanson Dam, where a weakened abutment may require the Army Corps of Engineers to release more water than usual. The dam itself is not believed to be at risk for failure, but the need to keep the pool behind the dam low heightens the risk of flooding downstream in the heavily developed Green River Valley. That includes parts of Auburn, Kent, Renton and Tukwila.

“Every homeowner in the area should have flood coverage,” said Kreidler. “Many people mistakenly think that their regular homeowners’ insurance covers flooding, when in fact it doesn’t.”

At Kreidler’s request, state lawmakers this year passed a law requiring insurers to annually remind homeowners that their policy doesn’t cover flooding, and to provide information about the National Flood Insurance Program. (The NFIP site allows people to instantly find out their flood risk by typing in an address, as well as examples of flood premiums and a list of local agents.)

On Thursday, Kreidler sent a letter to insurers, asking them to immediately contact their customers in the Green River Valley and suggest that they strongly consider buying flood coverage. Flood coverage doesn’t take effect until 30 days after the policy is written, making it important to act now.

“I recognize that reaching out to these customers will be an additional expense for insurers,” Kreidler said. “But it’s also a chance to show their commitment to their customers’ well-being. Flood coverage in this area is critical.”

In addition to buying flood insurance, Kreidler recommends that people in the affected area:

* Consider installing a sewer backflow valve to prevent sewer lines from backing up into the house through drain pipes.
* Document the contents of their homes with photos or a video.
* Move important papers (birth and marriage certificates, insurance policies, tax returns, bank statements, major receipts, property records, legal papers, etc.) upstairs, and, if possible, make copies to store at another location.
* Plan for evacuation: Keep medicine, food, water, a flashlight, sleeping bag, clothing, battery-powered radio, key documents and photographs, toiletries, and pet and baby supplies handy in one place.

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