Few Kan. Residents Covered by Flood Insurance

July 16, 2007

While his flooded neighbors faced an uncertain future, homeowner Bob Foust was already well under way this week repairing the water damage to his house upstream of the refinery’s oil spill.

Not only did his house escape the oily gunk carried by floodwaters, but Foust had a very rare commodity in this southeast Kansas city _ flood insurance.

Torrential rains in late June swelled the Verdigris River to historic heights, cresting four feet higher than the 26.5-foot levees that have protected this community since the 1960s. The city’s misery was compounded when an oil spill from the Coffeyville Resources refinery was spread by floodwaters.

Few homeowners in this low-income city carried flood insurance.

When Foust refinanced his house in November, the bank’s loan agent his cousin, Leigh Foster, noticed he wasn’t carrying flood insurance and insisted over his strenuous objections that Foust insure the property for flooding before approving his loan.

“I tried to talk her out of it,” Foust said. “I owe my insurance to my cousin for not looking the other way and letting me get my loan. … I feel fortunate, I really do.”

But most home- and business owners in this now oil-sodden city are depending on government disaster assistance and any settlement they can get from the refinery for damage. Individuals are applying for grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or loans from the Small Business Administration and the Kansas Farm Service Agency.

Insurance adjusters for the Coffeyville Resources refinery have been assessing damage to downstream properties while fielding hundreds of claims for damage. Its spokesman, Steve Eames, said the company has “adequate insurance” to repair damage to its own facility as well as handle claims.

At the Kansas Farm Bureau insurance agency in Coffeyville, numerous customers have been coming in to get letters documenting that they didn’t carry the added flood insurance, a requirement before they can file for government disaster assistance.

Homeowner Larry Quigley clutched his letter as he left the insurance office. He needed it to apply for a U.S. Small Business Administration loan that he hoped to use to relocate to another area. He had no flood insurance.

“I am in a 500-year flood plain _ I thought my risk was low,” Quigley said. “I’ve lived there 36 years, and I didn’t have a problem.”

Farm Bureau agent Heath Higbie has been grappling with frustrated policyholders since floodwaters rose. About 100 of his customers lived in the flooded neighborhoods, but only four or five of them carried flood insurance, he said.

The dozens of vehicles flooded by rapidly rising water would be covered, however, under comprehensive auto insurance policies, Higbie said.

“We have been spoiled by the levee _ it’s never been an issue, except for flash floods,” Higbie said. “I don’t have anybody with flood insurance that wasn’t required by a lender. I expect that to change.”

Several customers have already told him to remind them to ask about flood insurance.

Higbie does not expect the southeast Kansas floods to affect premiums.

“It is large to us, but on the national scheme it is not big enough to affect it,” Higbie said. “They pool the money nationwide. It is a federally backed insurance program.”

Neither the refinery nor disaster officials could estimate the financial costs of the flood.

Coffeyville homeowner Pete Gonzalez looked helplessly at his flooded home when he saw it for the first time this week. He had hoped to be able to do the repairs himself, but the home was a total loss _ floors were buckled, and oil covered everything. A red placard warned the house was unsafe and could not be occupied.

“I don’t know what I am going to do,” Gonzalez said in Spanish.

Gonzalez, a foundry worker, found only a few framed photos high on the walls that he could salvage.

He had no flood insurance.

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