Virginia Flood Damage Costliest Since Hurricane Isabel

December 5, 2016

Virginia suffered only a glancing blow from Hurricane Matthew last month when unprecedented amounts of rain fell, but on Wednesday officials estimated flood damage to be hundreds of millions of dollars, making it the costliest storm since Hurricane Isabel in 2003.

Emergency management officials are now renewing calls for residents to get flood insurance, saying a vast majority of homeowners in areas vulnerable to major hurricane storm surge lack coverage.

“This was the glancing edge of a Category 1 storm,” Jeffrey Stern, the state coordinator for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, told reporters in Virginia Beach. “We really need to pause and get ready for a direct hit.”

Donald Keldsen, a coordinator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said about 4,000 people affected by Matthew in Hampton Roads have registered with FEMA so far. They have received $7 million in aid, much of it for hotel rooms and emergency repairs.

Those numbers are likely to rise before the registration deadline in January. The major costs will come from flood insurance payouts as well as aid for the majority of victims who lacked coverage.

Stern said the National Flood Insurance Program is expected to pay out $80 million to policyholders, who make up about 15 percent of Matthew’s victims. Stern said aid from FEMA and volunteer groups as well as federal loans will have to cover thousands of other homes.

The flooding was a surprise to many here because it occurred in neighborhoods miles from the Atlantic Ocean or Chesapeake Bay. Instead of a storm surge that most fear, weeks of rain brought by Matthew and previous storms overwhelmed drainage systems. Homes that had never flooded – or stayed dry for decades – were inundated with as much as 3 feet of water.

Ellen Ughetto, 78, of Virginia Beach, told The Associated Press that she canceled her flood insurance two years ago. Water hadn’t entered her house since 1964, and she and her late husband had paid off their mortgage, releasing them from any obligation to buy coverage. Plus, she said, rates had doubled to $1,600 a year after her neighborhood’s flood map was updated.

Then the rains from Matthew came. Four inches of water entered her home. She expects the damage will cost her $20,000.

Ughetto has already used some of her savings to buy materials for flooring and walls. She was preparing to crack open an annuity from her husband’s life insurance policy when she received $13,000 from FEMA.

She said getting the federal dollars meant she had to buy flood insurance again.

“I’ve learned my lesson,” she said.

The fear, officials said, is that too few people will be insured when a major hurricane strikes.

Stern, of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, said 473,000 homes are vulnerable to storm surge from a Category 4 hurricane but less than 8 percent of them have flood insurance. The damage from such a storm, he said, would be billions of dollars.

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