MAZOMANIE (WKOW) – Months after massive flooding caused major damage to homes in Dane County, some flood victims with staggering losses discover insurance lapses or confusion over policies leave them high and dry.
On Cramer Street in Mazomanie, Larry and Teresa Travis consider the damage to their basement and living area from flooding significant enough to render their home a total loss.
“It is hard to lose a house that you lived in for a long time,” Teresa Travis tearfully says of the home that’s been in her family for many decades.
The Travis home is close to Black Earth Creek. Until 2016, the Travis family had to carry costly flood insurance as a result of the home being in a federally designated, special hazard flood plain. But their home’s lender contacted them and informed them flood plain maps had changed. With the change, the federal flood insurance requirement went away.
Larry Travis says there was no history of his home flooding even before the change and the risk adjustment. He says he did not have a second thought about no longer having flood insurance.
“It was a big mistake,” Travis says.
Travis’ mother, Patricia Travis feels the federal government bears responsibility for leaving her son in the lurch.
“FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) is liable for his losses,” she says.
27 News asked FEMA Region V Spokesperson Dan Shulman if the agency has an obligation to reach out to a homeowner if a home is no longer in federally-designated flood hazard area to make sure there’s understanding the risk of flooding continues, even if it’s a slighter risk.
“No only do we feel like we have an obligation, we have a legal obligation to reach out to communities to make sure they’re aware of what’s happening with those flood maps,” Shulman says.
“We do make an effort to notify communities and to notify property owners, there’s going to be a change in the flood map,” he says.
In Madison, there was no ambiguity over Paige Stone’s home being outside of a federally-designated flood plain. But by the morning of August 21, flood waters had battered the home’s foundation and left Stone and her husband Andrew Schuck wondering if the home was a total loss.
After weeks of displacement, the couple was able to repair the home, thanks to thousands of dollars in help from family, friends and donations to a Go Fund Me page.
Had it not been for the generosity, Stone says a financially-devastating option had been on the table.
“We multiple times threw out the word, ‘bankruptcy,’ ” she says.
Schuck says they also assumed their homeowner’s insurance obviated the need for flood-damage coverage.
“I guess we didn’t think we needed it, weren’t aware that it was a separate policy,” Schuck says.
“We advocate flood insurance for every homeowner, renter, business owner regardless of whether their property is in the special flood hazard,” Shulman says.
Shulman notes flood insurance becomes more affordable for property outside of flood plains. He says FEMA data shows 25% of flood insurance claims involve property outside of the special hazard zones.
Larry and Teresa Travis remain puzzled over the change in their home’s flood risk designation and whether more education on the risk profile would have led to different insurance decisions, and protection for when their home was swamped by the damaging waters. Right now, their support in rebuilding their lives is limited. “We just have help from churches and friends and family,” Larry Travis says.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Travis says. “Hopefully some good will come of it.”
Shulman reiterates last month’s disaster declaration for the state of Wisconsin by President Trump triggers the release of up to $34,000 for eligible flood victims. He says anyone impacted by the massive flooding is encouraged to register with FEMA for potential assistance.
For more information, visit readywisconsin.wi.gov, or www.disasterassistance.gov.
For additional information on flood plain mapping and flood insurance, visit FloodSmart.gov.