Insurance coverage

Officials urge preparedness and insurance coverage in wake of Westmoreland floods

More than 80 homes in Unity and Hempfield townships were damaged on August 5 when a storm dumped 5 inches of rain on the area, causing flash flooding.

But only four of those homes were covered by flood insurance, according to state Rep. Eric Nelson, R-Hempfield.

The local statistic punctuated a campaign by state officials who stopped in Hempfield on Monday to urge residents to prepare for emergencies and consider getting flood insurance.

Most home insurance policies do not cover flood damage.

“That’s a lesson you don’t want to learn at the last minute,” said Jeffrey Thomas, deputy executive director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. He spoke at the Westmoreland Conservation District Office to help promote September as National Preparedness Month.

Homes do not need to be located in a federally designated special area to be at risk of flooding or to be eligible for flood insurance coverage, he said.

“If it’s raining where you live, you should probably be thinking, ‘Should I get flood insurance?’ said Thomas.

He said the damage cost is estimated at $25,000 for 1 inch of rising floodwater in a home.

According to Thomas, 90% of floods tracked by the National Weather Service since 1993 have occurred outside special flood zones. These are areas with an increased risk of flooding – a 25% chance over 30 years.

Overall, flood risks are increasing, depending on weather trends, he noted.

“Over the past five decades, there has been a 74% increase in heavy rain events in the northeastern United States,” he said, referring to weather patterns that are dropping more 2 inches of rain in less than two hours.

Such statistics, he said, “force us to ask people to be better prepared, no matter where you live.”

National Preparedness Month was part of the long-term responses to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Instead of an annual awareness event, Westmoreland County Public Safety Director Bud Mertz said, “I think it should be every day.”

Mertz advised residents to “understand what your risks are and make a plan around them.”

This includes preparing for an eventual evacuation, whether it is from a flood, tornado or chemical spill. The August 5 flash floods affected 15 businesses as well as residential properties, he said.

Many residents were evacuated from homes in the Unity village of Dorothy, one of the areas hardest hit by the storm.

Mertz noted the importance of keeping cellphones charged and having essential medications ready to take.

Other useful contents for an emergency “go kit” include stable food, water, and flashlights that have fresh batteries.

Other ways to prepare include making an inventory of valuables and, for those renting out their homes, considering tenant insurance.

“If you have a sump pump, you might want to talk to your insurance agent about back-up water coverage,” said David Buono, the state’s deputy insurance commissioner.

Following the August 5 floods, organizations such as the local fire department, the Salvation Army, the University of Pittsburgh in Greensburg, The Union Mission and Catholic Charities provided aid to those displaced or suffered losses in the disaster.

Low-interest loans were also offered to eligible flood victims through the US Small Business Administration.

Flood insurance can be purchased from private carriers or through the National Flood Insurance Program, information about which is available at floodsmart.gov.

Visit assurance.pa.gov for general information about insurance in Pennsylvania and ready.pa.gov for advice on emergency preparedness.

Jeff Himler is an editor of the Tribune-Review. You can contact Jeff by email at jhimler@triblive.com or via Twitter .