In today’s world of extreme weather events, $1 billion has become the new normal for yearly catastrophic losses – most of this is due to water-related damage.
Flooding and related sewer backup damage is costly for homeowners, businesses, municipalities and insurance companies. But, there are steps you can take to help mitigate risk.
From ensuring that important documents are not stored in your basement to installing a sump pump, there are many ways to be proactive such as:
- Keep a current and detailed home inventory.
- If your neighbourhood is prone to flooding, take precautions throughout your house and property.
- Assemble a disaster safety kit.
- Create a 72-hour emergency preparedness plan for your family.
Rest Easier. Know What’s Covered.
Talk to your insurance representative to make sure you have appropriate coverage. Be aware that:
- Damage to your home caused by the sudden and accidental bursting of plumbing pipes and appliances is usually covered by all home insurance policies.
- Historically in Canada, home insurance policies haven’t covered loss or damage caused by overland flood damage, which occurs when bodies of water, such as rivers, dams overflow onto dry land. This has begun to change. Some Canadian insurers have started to offer overland flood coverage for policyholders but this type of coverage is new on the market and not all insurers are offering it. Check with yours to see if it is available and if you qualify for the coverage because if you live in a known flood plain, the coverage may not be available.
- Water damage in a basement that backs up through sewers, floor drains, toilets and showers maybe covered if your policy covers sewer back up or you may have purchased the coverage as an optional endorsement. So speak to your insurance representative to understand what coverage and limits you have.
- Damage to homes caused by hail or wind is usually covered. This includes damage caused by flying debris or falling branches or trees, or damage caused by water entering through sudden openings caused by wind or hail.
- If Comprehensive or All Perils coverage has been purchased on your auto policy, damage to vehicles from wind, hail or water is usually covered. This coverage is not mandatory, so check your policy.
- In certain circumstances, homeowners who must leave their home due to insurable damage are usually entitled to additional living expenses (ALE) speak to your insurance representative to understand the coverage you purchased.
Tips For Starting The Claim Process
- Call your insurance representative or company. Most insurers have a 24-hour claims service. Be as detailed as possible when providing information.
- List all damaged or destroyed items. If possible, assemble proofs of purchase, photos, receipts and warranties. Take photos of damage incurred and keep damaged items, unless they pose a health hazard.
- Keep all receipts related to cleanup and living expenses if you’ve been displaced. Ask your insurance representative about what expenses you may be entitled to and for what period of time.
Dawn Harp and Lars Androsoff were fully confident flooding didn’t threaten their home near southern British Columbia’s Kettle River.
Then the couple awoke at 1:30 a.m. on May 11 to the sound of floodwaters flowing beneath their Grand Forks home’s floorboards.
“I never thought this would happen in a million years,” said Androsoff, 42.
But climate change researchers say this month’s B.C. floods, and the record-setting New Brunswick floods before them, are a glimpse into the future for people who live near Canada’s many rivers.
Residents who thought their homes were safe must either move to higher ground or take flood-proofing steps, while governments have to accelerate the creation of flood risk maps and zoning rules, they say.
“The most recent flooding in New Brunswick and south-central British Columbia are reminders we can no longer ‘cheat the system’ on flood risk,” Blair Feltmate, who leads a federally appointed panel studying climate adaptation, said in an email.
“Cheating has caught up to us.”
Harp, who is being treated for lung cancer, and Androsoff, a certified meat cutter at a local facility, had hoped a nearby dike would protect them when they bought their house seven years ago, but it was overcome by the rushing waters that had surged through southern B.C.
The 45-year-old says if she’d have known the flood risk, she “wouldn’t have bought the home.”
Like most residents of the neighbourhood of North Ruckle, or the flooded areas of New Brunswick, they have no insurance for the loss of most of their possessions.
Feltmate says as the waters recede in B.C. and New Brunswick, it’s important public attention stays focused on better preparation for the next round of rising waters _ so fewer citizens like Androsoff and Harp are caught off guard.
“Every day we don’t adapt is a day we don’t have,” says Feltmate, an environmental scientist and head of the Intact centre of climate change at the University of Waterloo, which completed a 2016 study that showed just six per cent of 2,300 Canadians living in high risk flood zones were aware of the potential devastation they faced.
Feltmate is among the advocates arguing there’s an urgent need for easily accessible, high-resolution flood risk maps that precisely point out potential damage to properties; zoning rules that strictly restrict developments in vulnerable areas; and help for residents to move or prepare.
Governments must move more swiftly on these and numerous other preventative measures, such as ensuring home inspectors are trained to recognize flood risk and warn homebuyers, he says.
For those caught in rising waters, the price is financially and emotionally devastating.
“I’d rather go through a fire than a flood,” said Androsoff. “I’ve been through the 1998 Salmon Arm (forest) fire when we had it and it was nothing compared to this … With fire you can at least wet things down. Water is way worse. We couldn’t do anything.”
Insurance Bureau of Canada figures bear the personal experiences out to the wider scale. From 1983 to 2008, annual flooding insurance claims ranged from $200 to $500 million annually, but have consistently been over $1 billion annually since 2009.
Feltmate says basic basement floods _ either from rivers or isolated downpours such as occurred in Burlington, Ont., in August 2014 _ have become the single largest cost of climate change-related damage in Canada. His research institute has estimated the average basement cleanup costs $43,000.
These are the kind of expenses uninsured New Brunswick residents are also grappling with after the rise of the Saint John River to historic levels, touching as many as 12,000 homes and cottages and resulting in an early estimate of $80 million in damage.
Meanwhile, in B.C., thousands of residents are returning to homes this week marked with red or yellow signs indicating a health inspection is necessary before they’re reoccupied.
Sean Allen, a mechanic who lives in Maugerville, N.B. _ a community downstream of Fredericton on the eastern shore of the Saint John River _ already has estimates of over $100,000 for the river water damage to his home, which he’d believed was safe when he first moved in.
When he purchased his home 22 years ago, he said, he was told the river hadn’t been that high in the past.
“It’s a kilometre from the shore,” he said. Now he’s considering moving if he can receive enough disaster relief from the province to pay out his mortgage.
Feltmate says provincial flood maps that have the latest climate change models factored in could help people avoid similar fates, provided governments move to encourage citizens to regard flood protection as a necessity of any home purchase.
Karine Martel, a spokeswoman for Public Safety Canada, says “in many parts of Canada they (maps) are either unavailable or out-of-date due to land-use changes and projected changes in climate.”
Ottawa is working on standards for the updated maps, and is providing funding to provinces and territories in part through a $2-billion national disaster mitigation program introduced in the last federal budget, she said.
Spokespersons for the B.C. and New Brunswick governments said work is underway to improve the resolution of maps, with New Brunswick saying the higher “modernized and updated” maps are expected by 2020.
However, the wider issue is whether provinces will prevent development in areas already known to be at risk, and whether it will become mandatory for real estate disclosure statements to reveal flooding danger, says Feltmate.
Brian Burrell, who worked as a hydrotechnical engineer in the New Brunswick government during a flood mapping program from 1981 to 1994, says a rough outline of the high water marks of past floods were made available in his province, but they didn’t prompt regulatory reforms once published.
He said successive governments failed to end development or to create financial disincentives for building on the flood-prone areas, though some cities did bring in some zoning restrictions.
“There was a lot of discussion about flood plain management that never got to a definitive government program,” he said. “It’s one thing to have policy, it’s another to have a program.”
In his travels across Canada, Feltmate says he consistently encounters resistance from homeowners and developers who aren’t eager to have fresh restrictions that devalue their properties, and politicians who are worried about the political fallout.
Daniel Henstra, a senior fellow at the centre for international governance innovation at the University of Waterloo, says the flooding in both provinces demonstrates that Canadian homebuyers currently don’t have access to “an effective system to make people aware of their property’s flood risk.”
The political scientist argues in a recent study that in addition to accurate, precise risk maps, there’s a need in Canada for “clarity on who should be responsible for disclosing flood risk and when.” For example, in California, property sellers are required to tell potential buyers if the property is located in the 100-year flood zones.
If money is spent on mitigation and prevention, Canadians and governments will save billions of dollars in years to come, said Feltmate.
“What we have found is that for every dollar spent by a homeowner to mitigate flood risk, they will on average save $8 to $12 over a decade from basement flooding that doesn’t occur if they act on these recommendations,” he said.
But for thousands of Canadian homeowners like Androsoff and Harp, there’s uncertainty whether they’ll get another chance to prepare, as they piece together their lives again.
They plan to apply for disaster relief from the province, and await word on whether their home can be repaired and kept safe.
“We have a travel trailer, a home on wheels. Other than that, it’s one day at a time,” Harp said.
More than $421 million in claims have been filed since deadly mudslides tore through the coastal community of Montecito during extremely heavy January rains, California’s insurance commissioner said Monday.
Insurers have received more than 2,000 claims for residential and commercial losses, commissioner Dave Jones announced. Those include $388 million for residential personal property, $27.2 million for commercial property and $6.7 million for auto and other lines of insurance.
Recently burned by California’s largest recorded wildfire, the hillsides of Montecito northwest of Los Angeles could not absorb the rainstorm with an epic downpour of nearly an inch (2.5 centimetres) in 15 minutes early on Jan. 9.
“Once the rains hit, the water runs down, begins to take mud with it, and before you know it you have a 30 or 35-foot high wall of mud demolishing Montecito,” Jones said.
Twenty-one people were killed and two remain missing.
The mudslide insurance claims come on top of California wildfire claims that topped $12 billion in 2017, making it the most expensive series of fires in state history, Jones said.
That exceeds the total insurance claims from the top 10 previously most costly wildfires in California. Most of last year’s claims were connected to Southern California’s fires in December and October’s devastating blazes in wine country north of San Francisco.
Jones said he fears the staggering number of insurance claims represent a “new normal” for California.
“It used to be we could talk about a wildfire season. Now that’s simply not the case. Wildfires are year-round, and Californians need to protect themselves accordingly,” he warned.
In Montecito, 1,415 residences were damaged and 107 were destroyed, in some cases swept completely off their foundations, Jones said. Five commercial properties were demolished and 235 others suffered damage when torrents of water flowed down hills carrying mud, boulders and debris.
Jones recalled the experience of touring the devastation zone as “extraordinarily chilling.”
The commissioner predicted that the $421 million total will climb as additional claims are made and existing ones are adjusted.
Few residents in Montecito, with 3,200 households, had flood or mudslide insurance prior to the destruction. But the Department of Insurance has instructed insurers to honour claims if they had fire coverage, Jones said.
That’s because the debris flow’s “proximate cause” was the enormous Thomas fire that scorched a huge swath of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties starting in December and loosened hillsides that became vulnerable to mudslides weeks later.
Jones said insurers have enough reserves to pay the massive claims. But he said the fires and subsequent debris flows may prompt them to re-evaluate the fire risk and raise premiums, especially for California homes in high-risk areas.
Insurance claims from last year’s deadly California wildfires have reached $11.8 billion, the most expensive series of wildfires in state history.
The staggering figure released Wednesday includes $1.8 billion in insurance claims from fires that swept through Southern California in December.
The rest is from a series of fires in Northern California’s wine country in October.
Before last year, California’s most expensive single fire was the 1991 Oakland Hills fire that prompted $2.7 billion in claims in today’s dollars.
Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones says that the firestorms damaged or destroyed 32,000 homes, 4,300 businesses and more than 8,200 vehicles, boats and other equipment.
The totals do not include insurance claims related to mudslides that buried homes and vehicles in Montecito when torrential rain fell on hillsides burned in the December fires.
The British Columbia government is offering eligible small businesses increased relief funds up to a maximum of $18,500 for losses following this summer’s wildfire season.
Forests Minister Doug Donaldson said Wednesday, November 29, 2017 the province is partnering with the Canadian Red Cross to provide the money to small businesses as partial compensation for uninsured losses, insurance deductibles, minor repairs and clean ups.
Donaldson said funding is also available to not-for-profit organizations and Indigenous communities.
Finance Minister Carole James pegged the most recent government estimate of last summer’s wildfire damage costs at almost $660 million.
Donaldson said small businesses and others can apply for the new relief funds through the Red Cross, who will review each funding request on a case-by-case basis.
Throughout April southern portions of British Columbia experienced prolonged periods of rainfall leaving several rivers flowing well above normal for the time of year. Further heavy rainfall on May 5 led to several of these rivers overflowing their banks. At least two people were killed and hundreds were evacuated as flooding impacted the southern interior region. Significant damage to infrastructure and agriculture was reported.
Following on from a wet April in Eastern Canada, several low pressure systems brought further rainfall to portions of Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes from May 1-6: the heaviest of which fell on May 5-6 resulting in several rivers overflowing their banks. Two people were killed in Quebec where nearly 2,000 residents were evacuated. Significant flooding was also experienced across Ontario and in portions of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Among the worst affected communities was Ottawa-Gatineau where both the Ottawa and Gatineau Rivers burst their banks. More than 5,200 homes were damaged.
A powerful low pressure system brought strong winds and storm surge flooding to southern portions of Canada’s British Columbia province on May 23 before tracking into Alberta and Saskatchewan on May 24. Numerous trees were downed and significant property damage was reported in all three provinces. Almost 200,000 customers were without power at the storm’s peak. Additionally, flooding was reported along portions of the British Columbia coast and in Okanagan region.