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Dale: If you live near water, you need to have flood insurance

Insurance Commissioner George Dale is urging coast residents to get flood insurance before the hurricane season starts June 1.

“If you live near water, you need to have flood insurance,” Dale said. “A homeowner’s policy will not cover water (damage) under certain conditions.”

Policies take effect 30 days after purchase.

Mississippi’s flood insurance sales dropped dramatically this year after a record season in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The Aug. 29, 2005, hurricane caused about $40 billion worth of damage in the state.

“It seems like immediately after the storm, there was a rush for flood insurance,” Robert Hoag, an independent insurance agent in Biloxi, told The Clarion-Ledger. “Since then, it’s slowed down.”

The number of flood policies in the state jumped 69 percent to 74,296 in 2006. The increase was the largest in the nation, according to National Flood Insurance Program statistics.

As of Feb. 28, there were 76,538 flood policies in effect in Mississippi, a 3 percent increase over 2006.

Dale blames the smaller rate of purchase on the pace of rebuilding.

“There’s not as much property as there was (before Katrina) to be insured,” he said.

As time passes, residents tend forget the need for flood insurance — which happened after the 1979 Easter flood in Jackson, he said. Flood policies soared in the years after the flood but later slowed.

Flood insurance is provided by the federal government to renters, business owners and homeowners. The average premium is about $500 annually. Private insurers do not cover flood damage.

Federal flood insurance generally is viewed as “the most affordable coverage you can have,” said Hoag, who offers each customer a policy. “Some of them still don’t think they need it.”

Some residents are not rebuilding in flood zones where lenders would require flood insurance, he said. Those who were able to rebuild did so rapidly.

“The people who had houses after the storm purchased flood insurance pretty quickly,” he said.

Most of the flood policies sold are on the state’s three coastal counties.

In Hancock County, there are 9,228 flood policies, a 72.6 percent increase over 2005. In Harrison County, the number of policies issued since 2005 rose 124.9 percent to 22,155. The number of flood policies quadrupled in Jackson County, where 20,537 policies are in effect, a 262 percent growth rate over pre-Katrina levels.