SOUTHERN INDIANA — Donald Lanham doesn’t have to live off of Blackiston Mill Road and right next to Silver Creek, but he has for the last 13 years.
Lanham owns two other homes in Southern Indiana, but he chooses to live in his skinny, brown trailer. He’s right next to an empty plot of land, which he’s transformed into a park of sorts: with colorful flags and seats that look out over the creek.
In good weather, families who are in the know visit the park for cookouts and socializing.
But after this week, Lanham isn’t sure he wants to live in his personal oasis anymore. The recent flooding in Southern Indiana, which particularly affected Utica and homes along Blackiston Mill Road, almost completely submerged his trailer and tossed debris all over his property.
Lanham doesn’t have flood insurance even though he’s in a federally designated special flood hazard area.
“I don’t have anything worthwhile,” Lanham said.
He doesn’t owe money on his home, which would require him to get insurance, and neighbors have told him that they pay anywhere from $400 to $1,000 per year for theirs.
Plenty of land in Clark and Floyd counties lies in high-risk flood areas, particularly along the Ohio River, backyard creeks and even in some low lying places such as Sellersburg, said Andy Stubblefield, the regional
director of personal lines for AssuredPartners, an insurance company with a location in Jeffersonville, which sells flood insurance.
Most people in high-risk flood zones do have insurance, said Jim Black, the director of AssuredPartners’ flood unit. That’s because banks require it for those with mortgages. But some homeowners, such as Lanham, choose to drop it when they can. Utica Town Board President Steve Long said in a previous interview that many residents of the river town don’t have flood insurance either.
Through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, it can cost homeowners living in high-risk areas anywhere from $500 to insure homes built before 1974 to $2,000 for older homes, Black said. That’s to cover $250,000 worth of damage to a home, anyway. Deductibles are higher for flood insurance than other types of coverage, too. Most of the ones Black sees are around $2,000, but you have to have two deductibles with flood insurance: one for the home itself and the other for its contents.
Despite the price, Black maintains that forgoing flood insurance is a bad idea. Stubblefield and him have observed flooding events become ever more common in recent years: from Hurricane Harvey in Texas to the Tennessee floods eight years ago.
“Everyone thinks it’s just not going to happen and then the weather keeps changing and then it happens,” Stubblefield said.
Ron Nixe is a neighbor of Lanham who does have flood insurance. It costs him around $700 a year, but he thinks it’s worth it.
This year, his home stayed dry, but in 1997, three feet of water flowed into his house. Nixe had to remove his drywall and replace his insulation, but the insurance company helped him out.
“We had no problems,” he said.
Some residents might decide to forgo flood insurance and hope that FEMA helps them pay for their damage instead. Lanham said he would be interested if the Town of Clarksville offered to buy his property.
But that route can come with its own complications, Black said.
The county you’re in has to qualify for FEMA aid before you receive it, and it’s uncertain at this time whether Clark and Floyd counties will. Even if you do live in a county that qualifies, you can’t get your money if the water doesn’t reach a certain height within your home, Black said. If you are able to get compensated, it’s capped out at a certain amount and often, you receive it in the form of a loan. (Businesses who receive FEMA aid always receive it in loan form).
And finally, even if you do receive aid, FEMA requires you to buy flood insurance anyway, Black said.
AssuredPartners also recommends that homeowners in low-risk flood areas buy insurance. It costs around $400 a year for $250,000 worth of coverage, Black said.
That might seem like a lot for something a homeowner may or may not need, but more than 20 percent of FEMA’s flood insurance claims come from homes out of the high-risk zones, according to the agency’s website. Flooding is also the most common natural disaster in the United States and just one inch of water in a home can cost more than $20,000.
Stubblefield also recommends that homeowners pay for water sewage backup, which covers water that leaks into the basement and isn’t covered by regular flood insurance.
For homeowners seeking to lower the cost of their insurance, Black recommends buying from the private market instead. They could also choose to buy less coverage. Most flood damage costs around $30,000 to $40,000, anyway, Black said. For homes in high-risk areas, elevating the house can cause insurance rates to dip, too.
Every time a flooding event happens, calls flow into AssuredPartners’ offices.
So far, Black’s department has handed out around 50 quotes to homeowners suddenly interested in flood insurance. He estimates that he’ll give out more than 100 by the time the next few weeks are up.
“But most still say, ‘ahh, it will never happen again,’” Black said. “And then it does. Then it happens.”