Top 5 states most at risk from storm surge

Chris Kissell

states at risk from storm surgeA hurricane packs a mighty punch, generating some of the fiercest winds of any storm on the planet, and torrential rains that can cause widespread flooding.

A recent example of this was when Hurricane Odile, a category 3 hurricane hit Mexican resort town, Cabo San Lucas on Sep. 14, causing widespread flooding and devastation.

A hurricane's biggest danger can be found in wind driven-waves that sweep over land and destroy property, says Lynne McChristian, Florida representative for the Insurance Information Institute III).

A storm surge is an abnormal rise in water generated by a storm. A surge generated by a hurricane or tropical storm can sweep through a building or home, causing catastrophic damage.

About 6.5 million homes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts are at risk of such destruction, according to a July 2014 analysis by CoreLogic, which provides financial, property and consumer information, analytics, and business intelligence.

Following are CoreLogic's top five states at risk for storm surge damage, plus steps you can take that can protect you in the event of a surge.

No. 5: Texas 434,421 properties at risk)

The Lone Star State was the site of one of the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history. On Sept. 8, 1900, a Category 4 hurricane struck Galveston, Texas. It had a storm surge of 15 feet and killed about 8,000 people.

Surge protection tip: Know your home's elevation

It's important to know how high your home is built in comparison to the area's base elevation so you can assess your level of risk.

Base flood elevation is defined as the elevation that can be reached by a flood with a 1 percent chance of occurring in any year. If your home is located below this elevation, you're at a greater risk.

Homeowners can find the base flood elevation for their property by contacting their local building department, or by looking at the flood maps for their area drawn up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency FEMA).

To get precise elevation information, McChristian suggests hiring a surveyor or engineer to do an elevation survey of your property. This may cost between $500 to $2,000 or more, depending on the location and complexity of the job, according to FEMA.

Surging water can also reach many miles inland, underscoring the importance of flood insurance no matter where you live.

No. 4: New Jersey 445,928 properties at risk)

Superstorm Sandy devastated the Garden State, once again showing that the Northeast isn't invulnerable to such threats. Also, Nor'easters and other winter storms are capable of producing storm surges.

Surge protection tip: Use the right construction

Once you know your home's elevation, take action if it isn't built above the base elevation for your area, says Tiffany O'Shea, spokeswoman for the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety IBHS).

"Elevate your home), and make sure it has an open foundation," she says.

O'Shea says that several recent storms created surges exceeding base flood elevation, so consider elevating your home at least 3 feet above the base elevation suggestion.

Additional actions you can take to reduce property damage from storm surge include:

  • Use breakaway walls on the bottom floors. This creates an open foundation for the water to wash through, and reduces the danger of the building possibly collapsing.
  • Move all equipment and important belongings 3 feet above the base flood elevation.

No. 3: New York 466,919 properties at risk)

The Northeast generally has a low risk of hurricanes. But anyone who remembers Superstorm Sandy won't be surprised to see the Empire State on this list. During Sandy, storm surge flooding reached 9 feet above ground in parts of the state.

Surge protection tip: Get flood insurance

A basic home insurance policy won't cover storm surge damage as it won't cover rising water, McChristian says.

You need to purchase separate flood insurance. Flood insurance covers water damage caused by water that enters your home through events such as rain, rising river or creek waters, or a storm surge.

However, a warning: Flood insurance comes with a 30-day waiting period, so you can't purchase a policy once a storm becomes a threat.

McChristian urges people who are inland to remember they're not immune to flood damage. Twenty percent of flood claims are paid to people living in low- to moderate-risk flood zones, according to the National Flood Insurance Program.

No. 2: Louisiana 738,165 properties at risk)

It wasn't so long ago that Hurricane Katrina ravaged Louisiana, killing 1,833 people and displacing thousands more. The Bayou State takes second place on the storm surge list, with more than 738,000 properties at risk.

Surge protection tip: Check out NHC's new surge map

This year for the first time, the National Hurricane Center NHC) will issue a flood map that shows areas at risk for storm surges each time a hurricane approaches the U.S. coasts.

The map will show areas at risk for inundation, and how high above ground such a surge might reach.

This should help homeowners better understand the risks they face, says Lt. James Brinkley, storm surge operations manager at the NHC.

Maps will be issued with hurricane watches and some tropical storm watches.

Brinkley also urges homeowners to follow the advice of emergency management officials, and to know ahead of time whether their home is at risk and is located in an evacuation zone.

The federal government offers tips for creating an evacuation plan at its Ready.gov website.

No. 1: Florida 2,488,277 properties at risk)

The Sunshine State's potential for storm surge damage is by far the nation's greatest, with more than 2.4 million properties at risk. That is more than double the No. 2 state on this list.

Surge protection tip: Don't downplay the risk

Many people have a mistaken notion of what a storm surge is all about.

"Rarely is it the 'wall of water' that people expect," McChristian says. "It's more likely to be a very rapid rise in water of several feet in a matter of minutes."

That may not sound very scary, but it should. A mere 6 inches of rushing water can topple an adult, according to the NHC.

"All it takes is a 1-foot storm surge to push your car off the highway," McChristian adds.

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