Surprising flood in Baton Rouge a warning for Tampa Bay Area

Flood insurance not just for waterfront properties
Posted at 6:01 PM, Aug 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-16 18:28:23-04

Ten people have died as a result of the recent historic flooding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which continued on Tuesday.

An estimated 20,000 have been displaced so far; their homes likely ruined, and many are in financial trouble because they did not have flood insurance.

"This is a whole town just washed away overnight," said one Baton Rouge survivor to ABC News.

Many did not see this coming, and because of this fact, many did not have flood insurance.

Experts say something very similar could happen in the Tampa Bay area.

Many wrongly think that if their home isn't right on the water, they're safe from flooding, said insurance agent Jake Holehouse of the Holehouse Insurance Agency in St. Petersburg.

"There's probably a lot of people in Louisiana right now that didn't believe they were in a flood zone that are going to learn next week when their claim gets denied," explained Holehouse.

He says there's also lots of people in the reverse situation: They have property near water, but not technically in a high-risk flood zone.

Businesses along Beach Drive in St. Petersburg are a good example, said Holehouse. State maps show that some businesses on Beach Drive are in a high-risk zone and are required to get insurance, while other properties just up the street have a different designation.

Holehouse points to similar issues in Safety Harbor, where properties with waterfront views are designated as being in "non-flood zones" despite the obvious potential risks.

Holehouse thinks people in that situation should buy flood insurance soon in case the maps change and prices rise.

"FEMA is updating all their maps, and so if you lock in your flood rate now in a preferred risk zone, you get to maintain that rate structure for the lifetime of that policy," said Holehouse.

"Then you have somebody think that, I'll just call next year, and I'll buy it next year. Well, five years later, they forget, and then they have the loss, and they realize what they didn't purchase," said Holehouse to ABC Action News. "The other big challenge is that if people wake up tomorrow and say they need flood insurance because there's a hurricane coming next week, it's a 30 day wait to get the policy."