FEMA to Californians: Buy flood insurance before it's too late

Californians in flood-prone areas have been urged to buy insurance before the coming El Niño pounds the state with heavy rains. 

Robert Rocha/AP/File
Flooding strands cars on a California road. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is urging Californians to buy insurance before it's too late.

With a powerful El Niño already underway in the Pacific Ocean and chances increasing for strong winter rains, federal emergency officials have urged Californians to buy flood insurance before it’s too late.

Purchasing insurance is the most powerful action residents can take against El Niño, said Roy Wright, FEMA's deputy associate administrator for insurance and mitigation, on Friday.

"If there was ever a time to buy flood insurance, this is the time," said Mr. Wright at a press conference. "You cannot get it at the last minute. There's a 30-day wait period for new flood insurance policies to go into effect," he said.

Flood insurance is funded through the federal government, due to a 1968 law enacted after many private companies declined to offer policies following heavy losses.

According to Wright, flood insurance policies for people in high-risk areas can cost $1,000 or a more a year. Policies for people outside those high-risk areas, which are called "preferred risk" policies, are cheaper and can range from about $140 to $500 a year.

"That is often within someone's reach in terms of the kind of investment they can make to buy down their risk," he said. "Even if you buy that policy for only one year, this is the year to buy it."

California residents can rate their flood risk and get insurance quotes on FloodSmart.gov, hosted by FEMA.

In the Bay Area, preparations for the storm season are already underway.

Resident Jason Alarid told the San Jose Mercury News that he's talking with his insurance agent about his flood policy.

"With this El Niño, we think we need more coverage, just in case," he said. "You never know what will happen."

In recent weeks, flash floods across the United States have provided devastating reminders of the power of rising water. Last week, a flash food carried debris and mud onto Interstate 5, north of Los Angeles, blocking traffic and stranding hundreds of motorists.

El Niño – Spanish for 'the boy' – forms every two to seven years and brings heavy rains, floods, and landslides. The last strong El Niño happened in 1997-1998 and is estimated to have caused between $10 billion and $25 billion of losses in the US.

The 2015 El Niño, expected to start this winter, is forecast to be historic.

It has a greater than 90 percent chance of continuing through the winter of 2015-16, warned NOAA officials this summer, and an 80 percent chance of lasting into early spring 2016.

For years, California has been mired in the worst drought on record, and the expected wet season could offer much needed relief. Last year forecasters had predicted a major El Niño event, but it failed to materialize plunging California into extreme drought.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.