The Big Story Blog

No flood insurance means trouble for renters, homeowners, businesses

Posted at 4:38 PM on June 22, 2012 by Jon Gordon

MPR News reporter Dan Kraker files this dispatch from Duluth:

In parts of Duluth today it's hard even to tell that a catastrophic flood coursed through the city only two days ago.

Streets have been cleared, parking lots that were totally submerged are now dry. But inside homes and businesses, people are still drying out waterlogged basements and assessing the damage. A lot of that damage is not covered by insurance.

Almost everyone has a story to tell about the flood: what sinkhole or mudslide they saw, what kind of damage their homes sustained.

For Stacy Soderlund, like a lot of people, the trouble started in her basement.

"The wall cracked and that's when the water started pouring in, and it went from three feet to five feet at that point," she said.

When the black, filthy water receded it revealed the damage done: her son's bed, TV, and video games, the washer and dryer, Christmas ornaments all destroyed.

Soderlund, a single mom with four kids, rents her house and carries renter's insurance, which does not cover flood damage.

"I never would have thought living in Duluth on a hill that we would need flood insurance. And I thought renters insurance, I thought flooded basements and things like that would be covered, you know, I had no idea."

According to the National Flood Insurance Program, only 111 Duluth households had flood insurance policies, out of nearly 36,000. Statewide, according to the Insurance Federation of Minnesota, not even one percent of residents buy the coverage.

Tim Jacobsen, an agent with American National Insurance in Duluth, said he's never sold a flood insurance policy here.

"A lot of people would think I was a crook if I was trying to sell them flood insurance, just because of the fact the premiums are very high, and we just don't have flood up here, so it's kind of like unnecessary insurance in most people's eyes."

Federal flood insurance is not part of a regular homeowner's policy either. Banks only require it for mortgages if the home is located in a federal flood zone. Some homeowners in Duluth purchased an insurance add-on for water or sewer backup, which will cover some damage.

Chris Gardner with All State Insurance in Duluth said most of his clients will have to pay for their repairs out of pocket. And in some cases it will be expensive.

"I've talked to several of my clients, who, the water got so high, that it actually went up into their first floor."

Preliminary estimates of the damage done to public infrastructure in the region already exceeds $100 million. It will be several more days before FEMA compiles an estimate of the damage to private property.

Gardner believes it will he high. He said you can see the scale of the damage just by driving around neighborhood streets.

"You'll see everybody's got something that they've thrown out on their lawn...I saw one person had a big huge pile of carpets, lamps, furniture, you could tell this was a finished basement that was completely destroyed."

A lot of businesses also sustained flooding damage. Tony Boen, regional manager of Grandma's restaurant, had to paddle to work by canoe Wednesday morning.

"Got in there, got to our safe, did a little underwater safe combination working, pretty nasty stuff, got the money out, got the computers into a dry bag in the canoe," said Boen.

But the rest of restaurant's interior was destroyed. All the food and liquor had to be thrown out. Boen said the company did not have flood insurance, and it's still talking to the insurance company to see what, if anything, was covered.

"It's a lot of lost business for us. This is the Grandma's that most of the locals come to."

Boen hopes to reopen his restaurant in a month. And while most of Duluth is open for business, it will be several months before all the cleanup is complete.


About Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto writes the Big Story Blog for MPR News. He joined the newsroom in 2008 after more than 20 years reporting on education, politics and the economy for news wires and newspapers across the country.