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Almost no Puerto Rican households had flood insurance

Tim Johnson and Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- One of the most eye-opening statistics in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria's roar through here is that there were just 5,675 federal flood insurance policies on an island with nearly 1.57 million housing units.

That means less than one-half of 1 percent of the commonwealth's homes were covered. Many will instead try to tap low-interest federal loans to rebuild.

The dearth of flood policies in Puerto Rico means the federal program will be required to pay little of the perhaps $85 billion in privately and federally insured losses from Hurricane Maria; the total includes not just homeowners' flood claims, but also, for instance, property damage. most of the losses occurred in Puerto Rico.

But if Maria doesn't require major outlays from the federal flood insurance program, the storm has underscored the issue of the affordability of these policies on the island and elsewhere.

Virtually none of the residents McClatchy spoke with recently at a suburban Costco in San Juan's Carolina district had flood insurance, let alone a homeowners' policy for storm losses. Just one person, a condo owner, said she had a flood policy; it was required by the bank issuing her mortgage.

Others simply played the odds.

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"The probabilities are not very high that a hurricane will hit," said Julio Soto Quijano, a jeweler. "Why have the expense year after year if there is no assurance that you will face the problem?"

Housewife Jailyn Colon Reyes, 37, saw one room flooded and a garden wall damaged. With no insurance, she expects to pay almost $2,000 out of pocket for repairs.

But that doesn't mean she'll be buying a policy in the future. "Our income doesn't allow us to pay for insurance," Colon said. "You've got to pay the light bill, the water, medicine, food, gasoline, additional expenses."

This isn't a problem limited to Puerto Rico.

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