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Got flood insurance? Thousands of homeowners in Hurricane Florence’s path do not

Thousands of homeowners in inland North and South Carolina stand to be inundated by Hurricane Florence‘s drenching over the next few days, but hardly any of them carry federal flood insurance, leaving them at risk of a devastating loss, with little prospect of help from the federal government.

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A McClatchy analysis of federal data shows that in the coastal counties, a relatively high percentage of households carry flood insurance policies, but the percentage drops off just a few miles inland. Overall, only 9 percent of households in South Carolina and 3 percent in North Carolina carried federal flood insurance as of mid-2017, according to National Flood Insurance Program data reviewed by McClatchy.

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Experts say Florence is sure to result in billions of dollars in uninsured losses, as well as more financial strains on the government’s flood insurance program, which is subsidized by U.S. taxpayers. Hurricane Harvey in 2017 in Texas caused $8.3 billion in federally insured flood damages, and nearly $120 billion more in uninsured losses. Florence could cause similar destruction.

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“That is completely within the realm of likelihood with this storm,” said R.J. Lehmann, a flood insurance specialist with the R Street Institute, a Washington-based think tank. “Something like Katrina is unlikely but not impossible. Florence is a 400-mile-wide storm, with 30 inches of rain projected in some places.”

Neil Nakahodo Kansas City Star

As of Thursday, the National Weather Service was forecasting Florence to drop 20 inches of rain or more in coastal areas stretching from Myrtle Beach, S.C. to Wilmington and then up to Morehead City in North Carolina. But heavy rains of 10 inches or higher are projected to stretch far inland, to the Interstate 95 corridor of both states.

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That heavy rainfall poses a threat to uninsured homeowners in South Carolina cities such as Florence and even Columbia, the state capital. In both of those areas, less than 3 percent of homeowners are covered by federal flood insurance, even though Columbia flooded heavily in 2015 and Hurricane Matthew inundated the Pee Dee River region the following year.

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Michael DuBois remembers the 2015 flood vividly. Record rainfall caused a creek near his rented home on Timberlane Drive in Columbia to swell and rage, flooding many of his neighbors.

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“The water was getting close to their roofs,” DuBois recalled. “It was engulfing their home. By the middle of the day everyone was moving things up the hill.”

Predicted rainfall for Hurricane Florence National Weather Service

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