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Flood Damage In The Carolinas Will Be Widespread, But Insurance Coverage Isn't


Flood damage to homes in the Carolinas will be extensive, but insurance money to pay for it will be far less widespread. That's because relatively few people have flood insurance. Several estimates place the number of coastal homes with flood insurance at about a third. But even a few miles inland - and in this storm, that includes some of the worst hit areas - that number drops to 1 in 10 or less. Mike Causey is North Carolina's insurance commissioner. He joins us now from Raleigh, N.C. Commissioner Causey, welcome to the program.

MIKE CAUSEY: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: You've been traveling to parts of the state that have been struck quite hard by the flooding and by the storm. I understand today you were in the area of Goldsboro. What did you see?

CAUSEY: That's right. Actually I have been in three counties - Johnston County, Wayne and Harnett. And I've seen widespread damage. I've seen caskets floating in cemeteries. I've seen cars underwater. I've seen crops underwater. I've seen homes underwater, businesses under water and hundreds of roads closed because the roads are underwater.

CORNISH: Now, did the storm affect areas where basically flooding is rare - where people frankly wouldn't have insurance because they wouldn't think that they needed it?

CAUSEY: Absolutely, it did. In fact, we have 100 counties in North Carolina, and all 100 counties were in a weather emergency at one point or another during Hurricane Florence and this storm aftermath.

CORNISH: So when you see this damage, you're looking at homes, for instance, where you're pretty sure there's not going to be any insurance to cover what happened.

CAUSEY: I know that for a fact. I was told this morning from FEMA that less than 135,000 people in the whole state of North Carolina have flood insurance. When you take a state population of 10 1/2 million, it's just a minuscule amount.

CORNISH: With so many people uninsured, what do you think the impact is going to be - on them but also for the state?

CAUSEY: It will be a huge financial impact. We've had farmers that have lost entire crops. We've seen businesses, restaurants, repair shops and all types of small businesses that are just completely out of business because the business is underwater. That has a huge economic impact because people are out of work. There's no income. It's a sad situation.

CORNISH: In moments like these, it's easy to see why it's important to have flood insurance. But this is also the second time in three years North Carolina has been hit hard by a storm. What's going on? Like, why aren't residents saying, OK, now is the time even if I think I'm not in a flood-prone area?

CAUSEY: That's a very good question. And you would think after Hurricane Floyd in 1999 - we had Hurricane Matthew just less than three years ago. I believe you'll see the state of North Carolina looking at things. I heard the governor say the other day, we may have to look at buying out some of these property owners in the low-lying areas that are prone to flooding.

We just shouldn't allow folks to rebuild in the exact same spot where their home was destroyed by flood. And in some cases, the property's been destroyed more than one time. So I think education is so important - that we look at elevation and make sure that these homes are built high enough to withstand that 500-year flood should it occur.

CORNISH: Mike Causey is North Carolina's insurance commissioner. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

CAUSEY: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF NYM'S "REDWOOD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.