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With More Flooding Possible This Year, FEMA Urges Residents To Get Flood Insurance

May 29, 2019 A kayaker paddles down flooded Main Street west of Grafton. The river had reached 32 feet, on its way to a projected crest of 36.3 feet, which would be the second highest on record and less than two feet below the record set in 1993.
File Photo | Brent Jones | St. Louis Public Radio
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is advising residents in Illinois and Missouri to buy flood insurance ahead of potential major flooding in the St. Louis region this spring.

Since last spring, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has paid nearly $70 million to Missouri residents who filed flood insurance claims.

Payments are likely to keep accumulating, as claims are still being processed and more flooding could occur this year. The National Weather Service predicts that above-average precipitation and abnormally moist ground conditions in the Upper Midwest this winter could increase the chance of major flooding in the St. Louis region in the spring. 

FEMA recommends that Missouri and Illinois residents enrollsoon to ensure they will have insurance before flooding occurs, said John Mills, a FEMA spokesperson. It takes 30 days for the policies to go into effect.

“If you live where it rains, you live where it can flood. And about 25% of flood claims come from areas not considered high risk,” Mills said. “Flood insurance, if you have it, can provide immediate financial assistance right away regardless of whether a major disaster is declared.” 

FEMA operates the National Flood Insurance Program. In Missouri, most of the flood insurance claims in 2019 were paid to St. Charles County residents, who received more than $20 million, and to residents in a cluster of northwest Missouri counties, who received about $16 million. 

When it floods, the state’s governor must ask the president to issue a major disaster declaration so that business owners, local governments and residents can receive financial assistance from FEMA. 

President Trump last year approved Gov. Mike Parson’s request for disaster declaration for some Missouri counties that were hit by severe flooding. The National Flood Insurance Program paid $4 million in claims for residents in eight counties that did not receive that designation, according to FEMA. 

The federal agency has paid nearly $23 million to Illinois residents who filed flood insurance claims in the last year. Although the president approved Illinois’ request for major disaster declaration for severe flooding last year, FEMA denied the state’s request for financial assistance to residents.

The Mississippi River near Grafton, Illinois, has nearly a 70% chance of major flooding within the next three months, according to the National Weather Service. 

It’s too early to tell when, where and how much it will flood, said Jared Maples, a National Weather Service hydrologist in St. Louis. If temperatures this winter are low enough to build up the snowpack, it will take longer for it to melt and raise river levels. 

“While the chances [of flooding] are above normal, it’s hard to say what magnitude of flooding would happen,” Maples said. 

Most home, business and rental insurance policies do not cover flood damage. The average annual cost of a flood insurance policy for homeowners is $700 per year. Flood insurance can cover up to $250,000 for structural damage and up to $100,000 for damage to contents in the home. 

Insurance rates are determined by the area’s relative risk of flooding. Flood insurance rate maps can help residents determine if their property is in a high-risk area.

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Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.