Louisiana residents still reeling from the floodwaters caused $20 billion in damages earlier this month now have another trial to contend with: looters.
People with pickups and even trailers are reportedly going through piles of debris left by flooded home and business owners on the streets, rummaging for anything of value – and consequently jeopardizing the victims’ chances of collecting insurance payment.
“Right after we put our stuff out, we had people asking if they could take the washer and dryer,” Kim Halphen of Walker, Louisiana told The Advocate
. “We can’t get rid of it until the insurance adjusters come.”'
Halphen and other Louisiana flood victims have been asked by insurance companies to save certain things such as pieces of carpet or wood trim in order to process their claims. Both private and National Flood Insurance Program-affiliated insurers prefer documentation of household items, including photos and serial numbers, and many are now advising policyholders to do this documentation before taking their debris outside.
At the very least, policyholders should beware of swindlers identifying themselves as working with FEMA or the city-parish.
“They’re not cleaning anything up. They’re just taking the appliances,” said Andrew Haley, who is busy this week assisting his insurance adjuster parents. “The insured has no way to get these items paid for.”
Perhaps even more disconcerting than looters is how few people in Louisiana even have to contend with the problem.
According to NFIP data obtained by Insurance Business America
, just 4% of home and business owners in the 11 most affected parishes have an in-force flood insurance policy. While more than 1.34 million people live in East Baton Rouge and surrounding parishes, only a little more than 58,000 carry coverage.
Statewide, 9% of Louisiana’s 4.65 million residents have an in-force policy.
“I tell folks the best insurance buy a Louisiana property owner can make is the significantly subsidized flood insurance program,” State Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said. “But…people invariably roll the dice.”
Part of that reason may still be cost, despite the subsidized rates from the NFIP, but the lack of private market options also makes coverage a difficult sell, insurance professionals say. Without multiple choices to present to clients, policies go unsold and home and business owners go uninsured.
And the continued subsidization of NFIP rates, a lack of accurate flood maps and outdated modeling techniques are preventing the market from developing further, a July Standard & Poor’s report found.
“At this point, we don’t expect a wave of private insurers to sweep into this market but rather a trickle as insurers would enter cautiously before they become more comfortable with the risks involved,” S&P concluded.
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