As late as June 3, a federal agency was urging people to buy insurance to protect against Missouri River flooding. Three days later, the agency declared a June 1 coverage deadline.
Caught by the mixed messages are an unknown number of people who bought policies in May and June but now aren't covered.
Wednesday, U.S. senators from Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota met with Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate about flood insurance, federal disaster aid and FEMA's formal designation that, for insurance purposes, the 2011 flood officially began June 1.
FEMA sent out a press release on June 3 that, in part, urged people to prepare for flooding along the Missouri and Platte Rivers, including the purchase of flood insurance. Because the insurance carries a 30-day waiting period, the press release said, “now is the best time to buy flood insurance.”
On June 6, a FEMA memorandum said the June 1 release of water from the Garrison Dam in North Dakota triggered a “flood in progress” in the Missouri River Basin. As a result, the memo said, only policies in effect before June 1 would cover damage from the Missouri River flooding, even if the damage occurs more than 30 days after the policy was purchased.
Asked about the June 3 press release, FEMA spokesman Brad Carroll said the agency is “constantly encouraging” people to protect themselves before and during the flood season.
A June 11 World-Herald story brought the June 1 coverage deadline to light. Wednesday, it was a topic during a meeting in Washington, D.C., involving Fugate and Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Neb.; Mike Johanns, R-Neb.; Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa,; and John Thune, R-S.D. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, sent a representative.
After the meeting, Nelson said in a press release and during a conference call with reporters that the June 1 designation was “problematic.” “Some of my colleagues are concerned that is an arbitrary date.”
He also said FEMA should provide more explanation, and Fugate should visit flood-damaged areas to “provide a better understanding of what FEMA can provide for communities and individuals.”
FEMA spokesman Carroll said Fugate explained at the meeting that the agency will consider flood damage claims individually because losses could be caused by flooding distinct from the flood triggered by the Garrison Dam water release.
The agency has said the June 1 date followed an inspection down-river from the Garrison Dam. that showed conditions met the agency's official definition of a flood.
Carroll added that the agency also has to consider taxpayer interests.
FEMA figures show that on April 30, there were 12,659 flood insurance policies in effect in Nebraska and 17,315 in Iowa. Those policies would provide coverage for damage from the Missouri River flooding. The agency did not have figures for sales in May or June because insurance companies have 60 days to report their sales.
Until the June 6 “flood in progress” memo by FEMA, insurance agents in Nebraska and Iowa sold flood insurance and told clients their coverage would be effective in 30 days. Some agents have called customers telling them they can get refunds if they act within the 30 days.
Contact the writer: