Hurricane Irma, which made landfall east of Key West as a Category 4 storm more than a week a ago, has already generated almost 20,000 federal flood insurance claims totaling billions of dollars in Florida. That figure could eventually exceed U.S. flooding coverage for Hurricane Harvey in Texas, a senior federal official said.
The director of the National Flood Insurance Program estimated Tuesday that tens of thousands of claims will ultimately be filed by Florida households hit by Irma-fueled storm surge from the Florida Keys to South Florida to Jacksonville.
Roy E. Wright, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood insurance director, told the Miami Herald that Florida’s numbers will start to increase significantly this week as households in the hardest-hit areas continue to file damage claims with FEMA.
“The [Florida] Keys’ number is going to grow faster because the people in the Lower Keys just started returning to their homes,” Wright said.
Wright predicted that total damage claims from Irma-related flooding will be “several billion dollars” in Florida. He said the state’s damages could exceed claims in Texas generated by Hurricane Harvey, which total $11 billion so far, mainly because of Irma’s flooding of expensive waterfront properties in Florida.
Wright said the hardest-hit flood areas are the Keys, which has generated 20 percent of the claims so far, and Miami-Dade, Broward, Lee, Collier and Duval counties, with 10 percent each. He said the balance of claims are coming from other parts of Florida.
In Florida, 1.7 million households have federal flood insurance, by far the most of any state in the country. There are 5.5 million policyholders with U.S. flood coverage nationwide.
Florida households with federal flood insurance policies can claim up to $250,000 in damages on a structure and up to an additional $100,000 for personal contents, such as appliances, furniture and and clothing.
Wright said policyholders should take lots of photos of flood damage to their homes to file along with their insurance claims.
In addition, he said that anyone without flood insurance who lives in a single-family home, condominium, apartment or trailer who suffered storm-related damage in Florida may qualify for FEMA funds.
He described the payments as a “life vest” to hold people over temporarily — in the low thousands of dollars — much less than the distributions to households with flood insurance policies.
So far, he said, FEMA has received 142,000 claims of this nature and distributed $153 million in Florida.