Most Duluthians lack flood insurance coverageby Dan Kraker, Minnesota Public Radio
DULUTH, Minn. — 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 — much of which is not covered by insurance.
Almost everyone in town has a story to tell about the flood. What sinkhole or mudslide they saw, what kind of damage their home 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 3 feet to 5 feet at that point," she said.
The water was black and filthy, and when it receded, she said, almost everything was destroyed. Her son's bed, TV, and video games, the washer and dryer, Christmas ornaments.
Northeast Minnesota Floods: The Latest • Story: South of Duluth, residents survey damage
• Photos: Duluth, northeast Minnesota awash
• Photos: Gooseberry Falls at full trottle
• Photos: North Shore residents shocked by deluge
• Photos: Moose Lake fights the flood
• Story: Tourism-dependent region worries
• Story: Duluth turns to FEMA for help
• Story: Cell phone, 911, cable out in Arrowhead
• Story: Frantic search for loose zoo animals
• Map: Duluth, North Shore flood zone
• Closures: Highways, Duluth streets, state parks
Soderlund is a single mom, with four kids. She rents her house. And she has renter's insurance. But when she called her agent, she discovered that didn't cover any of the damage.
"You need to purchase flood insurance for it to cover anything," Soderlund said. "She says she's never sold flood insurance with renters insurance. Never."
Soderlund said she never even considered buying it.
"I never would have thought living in Duluth on a hill that we would need flood insurance," Soderlund said. "I thought renters insurance, I thought flooded basements and things like that would be covered, you know. I had no idea."
And Soderlund is certainly not alone. 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 1 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 — and would think twice before trying.
"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," he said. "It's kind of like unnecessary insurance in most peoples' eyes."
Federal flood insurance is not part of a regular homeowner's policy. 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.
But Chris Gardner with All State Insurance in Duluth says 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," he said.
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," he said. "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."
BUSINESSES HIT HARD TOO
At the Grandma's restaurant near the Miller Hill Mall in Duluth, employees sprayed off cooking and other equipment out in the parking lot. A lot of businesses also sustained flooding damage, even those well up the hill like this one. Grandma's Regional Manager Tony Boen said he had to paddle to the restaurant 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," Boen said.
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 they're still talking to the insurance company to see what, if anything, was covered.
"It's a lot of lost business for us," Boen said. "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, as local leaders stress, it will be several months still before all the cleanup is complete.
Map: Minnesota communities not in the National Flood Insurance Program
- All Things Considered, 06/22/2012, 5:16 p.m.