By Jeff Noble / staff writer
The damage done to the East Bernstadt area from the tornado March 2, 2012 was estimated at around $12 million. But year in and year out, it is flooding that causes the most danger, the most damage, and the most loss of life in southeastern Kentucky.
That’s why flood insurance is becoming highly recommended by officials and the National Weather Service.
“Flooding is why our office was put up here in the first place. And while most homeowners insurance covers wind damage, lightning and tornadoes, they don’t cover floods. Many people don’t know that. And that’s why we tell people to look into the National Flood Insurance Program. It’s really important, in the region we cover, especially for people who live along the rivers and creeks,” said Shawn Harley, meteorologist-in-charge at the Weather Service Office in Jackson.
Created in 1968 by Congress, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) offers protection from floods caused by heavy rains, hurricanes, tropical storms and other events that affect our country.
The program is administered by FEMA - the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and NFIP offers flood insurance to homeowners, business owners and renters if the community they live in participates in NFIP. Those communities that participate agree to adopt and enforce ordinances that meet or exceed FEMA requirements to help reduce the risk of flooding.
A lot of information is available on the program by going to www.floodsmart.gov, or at www.fema.gov.
In the Tri-County region, tornadoes, severe thunderstorm winds, flooding and heavy rains have taken a large toll money wise since the year 2000 to April 30 of this year.
According to the NOAA storm events database, Laurel County’s had $49.215 million in weather-related property damage, with six deaths and 54 injuries — by far the most. During that same time, Knox County’s had $3.791 million in property damage, with one death and six injuries, while Whitley County’s figure for the past 12-and-a-half years has been $1.205 million in property damage, with no deaths and two injuries that are weather-related.
In Laurel County’s total, all six deaths and 40 injuries came from the East Bernstadt tornado. County officials said in March of this year the cleanup of the tornado damage was complete, with some $900,000 spent. Some 95 percent of businesses that suffered damage have reopened, and many of the residents either rebuilt their homes, or moved back into the areas affected by the tornado.
Coy Pritchard, the disaster coordinator for the American Red Cross in London, is among those in the front line when it’s time to respond. And while disasters are expensive, there’s also a big misconception out there.
“From the taxpayers point of view, they really cost a lot of money. I deal with most of the people after disasters who have no insurance, and most of them believe that FEMA’s going to pay for them, like it’s government insurance. It’s not. There is no organization, including FEMA, that will replace everything, and they expect FEMA, the Red Cross and other organizations at the scene to provide everything for them. We and FEMA are there to provide assistance. That’s the key word. Assistance,” he said Friday in a phone interview.
Pritchard recommends that people should have some type of insurance, whether it’s homeowners, renters, or property insurance before disaster strikes, “then they can call us after a disaster hits their neighborhood.”
“That’s why insurers pay their premiums. In case disaster strikes. That’s why our company’s disaster crews come in immediately after a major storm like Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast last fall,” said Mike Sparks, a Corbin insurance agent. “As for the damage caused from a storm, it depends on where the disaster hits. The coastlines used to be less crowded, but now they’re more populated and when a major storm comes through, it’s hard not for those areas now populated to be missed.”
Pritchard noted his organization, and others, spends a lot of time, effort and resources preparing before a disaster hits.
“It’s hard to answer, because each organization has a different function in the preparedness umbrella. For a group like Kentucky Emergency Management, their funds mostly go toward infrastructure around the state, region and communities. For the Red Cross, it’s mainly going toward education on a daily basis. We speak to civic organizations, clubs, schools, faith-based groups and other interested people to let them know about disaster preparedness. For example, we now have a disaster preparedness program for the elderly, focused just for them. And we have to buy cots, blankets, wheelchairs and walkers, so we can have them ready when we open up a shelter. We currently have 100 cots in the London area ready now, to support us quickly,” he pointed out.
Sparks also mentioned major insurance companies have their own crews preparing for the worst if it comes.
“They have weather rooms where they watch storms and project where and when a major disaster can hit. That way, the crews can move quickly, and there are those crews assigned only to storm duty, only working disasters. If it happened in our community, they would come here,” he said Friday.
For the Weather Service, the dollar amount is priceless. Harley said when the organization saves lives and property by issuing severe weather watches and warnings, along with other weather information, that alone has no dollar figure. That also includes numerous weather safety and preparedness classes the office does, and promoting NOAA weather and all-hazards radios.
“The cost is around $20-$40 on average, and aside from keeping you informed on changing weather, they’re ‘all-hazards radios.’ That includes warnings of chemical spills, Amber Alerts and other non-weather related disasters in the area. It’s like a smoke detector in your house. It’s peace of mind,” he said.
According to Pritchard, the weather radios are a small part of the big picture in being prepared prior to the storms.
“When there’s a major disaster, local governments are the driving force. Both Laurel and Whitley counties have done a great job, and Knox County has done a tremendous job. That includes three groups in particular. Emergency Management, the Red Cross and the county health departments. If you have a disaster plan that excludes one of those organizations, it’s going to be incomplete. We all work toward the same goal, so it takes a lot of teamwork,” he said.