The Farm, a small community on Buckwalter Parkway, is designated as a flood zone C – a moderate to low-risk area. It is, however, adjacent to zone A – a Special Flood Hazard Area by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
That land that runs up against the May River.
Although a few miles from the river, Farm homeowner Erinn McGuire experienced flooding in her house, but nowhere near the amount of damage that many of her neighbors had.
As Hurricane Matthew stormed through Bluffton on Oct. 8, “The water levels around my house in The Farm surpassed the foundation,” McGuire said. “The water started seeping in the master bedroom and spread throughout the house. We started sopping up water immediately with towels and a wet vac.”
Daylight brought a larger dose of reality. “It wasn’t until daylight that I fully realized how high the water was around my house,” McGuire said. “We didn’t open the doors for fear of water rushing in. Finally, at about 9 a.m., we had to take the dogs out. When I opened the door, a fish swam by and into the black-eyed Susans. Out in the roadway, the water was knee-deep.”
McGuire said she doesn’t have flood insurance and her homeowner’s policy does not cover flood damage. Because it was a named storm, that also meant she would have to pay a higher deductible – 5 percent of her home’s value – something she said would be difficult to do.
“I used to have flood insurance, but it’s not mandatory for my homeowner’s insurance, so I let it lapse a few years ago,” McGuire said. “I am in the process of applying to FEMA for assistance.” She has no idea how much compensation she might get, if any.
“Honestly, I will probably just end up eating my losses and call it a life lesson,” she said.
State Farm insurance agent John Mallett was working in Charleston County in 1989.
“I worked on Hugo in McClellanville and that was 25 miles inland,” Mallett said. “They got 25 feet of water.
Mallett said the choice to buy flood insurance is up to the individual, if the insurance is not required by the mortgage lender.
For many, “It’s more about peace of mind,” Mallett said. “You want to take care of that exposure but you don’t necessarily need first dollar coverage. You want to make sure if you’re wiped out you get some assistance.”
The way the law is written, mortgage companies are responsible for determining if a property is in a flood zone and if it is in a numbered A zone, they require the mortgagor to buy flood insurance, Mallett added.
Bluffton town Councilman Harry Lutz is a managing partner with Harbor Light Insurance and Wealth Management. Since Matthew hit, he has seen a lot of people reviewing their insurance coverage and reconsidering flood insurance.
“When you purchase a homeowners policy, the coverages are to protect the value of the home from fire, burglary, vandalism, hail. You can also get earthquake coverage and flood coverage,” Lutz said. “Most people have mortgages and the mortgage companies are going to require the homeowner get adequate coverage. You want to make sure the house is insured for replacement value – what it would cost to rebuild the home from the ground up if something happens.”
Lutz said that is different from how the home is valued for tax purposes or for a home loan.
“As a society, we try to get the best value we can on anything we buy. A lot of times we sacrifice the quality of the purchase we’re making and just looking at the dollars,” Lutz said. “What people are saying now is ‘I didn’t realize I had a 5 percent deductible’ and ‘I didn’t realize my policy didn’t cover flood insurance.'”
Both insurance agents said people are re-examining the coverage they have.
“They’re looking at improving what they have or get rid of the higher deductibles they weren’t aware they had,” said Lutz.
To be confident one has the proper amount of coverage without going overboard, Mallet said insurance policy holders need to review their coverage with their agent at least every two years.
And nothing is too small to record when it comes to documenting what you possess.
“Photo document everything in your house. It’s nothing these days to go room by room and take your phone and document stuff. It’s not really for an insurance inspector but it’s for you,” Mallett said. “After a catastrophic disaster, you’re traumatized. Recording includes everything from underwear and canned goods to family heirlooms. Bare everything and photograph it and don’t just keep it on your phone. Store it somewhere, not in the house. It’s for you so you can remember what you have.”
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.