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With More Flooding Possible This Year, FEMA Urges Residents To Get Flood Insurance

The National Ground Water Association estimates that more than 140,000 private wells in Missouri could have been contaminated by flooding. Missouri health officials think the extent of well contamination was overstated.
The National Ground Water Association estimates that more than 140,000 private wells in Missouri could have been contaminated by flooding. Missouri health officials think the extent of well contamination was overstated.

Since last spring, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has paid nearly $70 million to Missouri residents who filed flood insurance claims.

Payments are likely to keep accumulating, as claims are still being processed and more flooding could occur this year. The National Weather Service predicts that above-average precipitation and abnormally moist ground conditions in the Upper Midwest this winter could increase the chance of major flooding in the St. Louis region in the spring. 

FEMA recommends that Missouri and Illinois residents enroll soon to ensure they will have insurance before flooding occurs, said John Mills, a FEMA spokesperson. It takes 30 days for the policies to go into effect.

“If you live where it rains, you live where it can flood. And about 25% of flood claims come from areas not considered high risk,” Mills said. “Flood insurance, if you have it, can provide immediate financial assistance right away regardless of whether a major disaster is declared.” 

FEMA operates the National Flood Insurance Program. In Missouri, most of the flood insurance claims in 2019 were paid to St. Charles County residents, who received more than $20 million, and to residents in a cluster of northwest Missouri counties, who received about $16 million. 

When it floods, the state’s governor must ask the president to issue a major disaster declaration so that business owners, local governments and residents can receive financial assistance from FEMA. 

President Trump last year approved Gov. Mike Parson’s request for disaster declaration for some Missouri counties that were hit by severe flooding. The National Flood Insurance Program paid $4 million in claims for residents in eight counties that did not receive that designation, according to FEMA. 

The federal agency has paid nearly $23 million to Illinois residents who filed flood insurance claims in the last year. Although the president approved Illinois’ request for major disaster declaration for severe flooding last year, FEMA denied the state’s request for financial assistance to residents.

The Mississippi River near Grafton, Illinois, has nearly a 70% chance of major flooding within the next three months, according to the National Weather Service. 

It’s too early to tell when, where and how much it will flood, said Jared Maples, a National Weather Service hydrologist in St. Louis. If temperatures this winter are low enough to build up the snowpack, it will take longer for it to melt and raise river levels. 

“While the chances [of flooding] are above normal, it’s hard to say what magnitude of flooding would happen,” Maples said. 

Most home, business and rental insurance policies do not cover flood damage. The average annual cost of a flood insurance policy for homeowners is $700 per year. Flood insurance can cover up to $250,000 for structural damage and up to $100,000 for damage to contents in the home. 

Insurance rates are determined by the area’s relative risk of flooding. Flood insurance rate maps can help residents determine if their property is in a high-risk area.

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Eli Chen is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. She comes to St. Louis after covering the eroding Delaware coast, bat-friendly wind turbine technology, mouse love songs and various science stories for Delaware Public Media/WDDE-FM. Before that, she corralled robots and citizen scientists for the World Science Festival in New York City and spent a brief stint booking guests for Science Friday’s live events in 2013. Eli grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, where a mixture of teen angst, a love for Ray Bradbury novels and the growing awareness about climate change propelled her to become the science storyteller she is today. When not working, Eli enjoys a solid bike ride, collects classic disco, watches standup comedy and is often found cuddling other people’s dogs. She has a bachelor’s in environmental sustainability and creative writing at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and has a master’s degree in journalism, with a focus on science reporting, from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.