As Americans in North and South Carolina make it out of the Florence floodwaters, they face another daunting task: figuring out whether they can afford to rebuild.
Few have flood insurance in the areas with the worst destruction. Home insurance does not typically cover flooding, a fact many realize the hard way. People have to purchase a separate flood insurance policy at least a month in advance of a major storm to be eligible for reimbursement.
Only about one in 10 homes have flood insurance in the counties hit by Florence, according to a Washington Post analysis comparing the number of policies in National Flood Insurance Program data with the number of housing units in counties hit by the storm. Milliman, an actuarial firm, found similar results.
In Craven County, N.C., home to New Bern, a city that has dominated headlines for severe flooding and hundreds of rescues, 9.9 percent have flood insurance. In Wilmington in New Hanover County, slightly more — 14.2 percent — have flood insurance, according to the Post analysis.
The federal government requires flood insurance in parts of the country that are designated as "special flood hazard areas," but many homeowners and renters still do not get it because it is too expensive or they do not believe they are truly at risk. The government does little to enforce the requirement, leaving it mainly up to banks to mandate flood insurance as a condition of getting a home mortgage.
Some wrongly believe they do not need insurance because they can rely on Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grants, but those cover only up to $33,000 in damages. The typical payout is a few thousand dollars. Flood insurance, in contrast, covers up to $250,000 for the home and another $100,000 for possessions.
Shawn Spencer in Wilmington, spent much of Saturday raking debris out of the ditches in front of his home, hoping that would keep his property from flooding. Like many, he was not sure whether he had flood insurance for his home and the bike shop he runs as a small business.
"I'm not 100 percent certain if I've got it‚" said Spencer, 47, who has lived in Wilmington his entire life and cannot remember flooding this bad. "The government is forever moving the flood plain."
As catastrophic flooding continues to occur beyond the coastline, FEMA is trying to warn Americans that anywhere it rains can flood.
"Just one inch of floodwater in a home can cause $25,000 worth of damage," David Maurstad, FEMA's deputy associate administrator for insurance and mitigation, said on CNBC on Monday. "People think their homeowner policy may cover them from flooding, and it doesn't."