Rains settle down in town basements

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Besieged with fire and flood and road closures on U.S. 24, disaster looms large these days in the Ute Pass area.

With no break in the monsoons that have rained down on the Waldo Canyon burn area this summer, the residents experienced yet another jolt when torrential rains brought destruction to the area unrelated to the fire.

With evidence of flooded basements in Woodland Park and damage to communities along Ute Pass, insurance is now the main topic of conversation in the area.

As it turns out, most homeowners are stuck with the clean-up bills.

“Homeowner policies do not cover floods,” said Robbin Johnson, broker with the Insurance Center in Woodland Park.

“Any kind of surface water is not covered; rain comes down, ground gets saturated, water starts running into your home but that is not a covered loss under a homeowners’ policy.”

However, the term “flood” is a misnomer when it comes to insurance coverage. “For most of our customers, the flood policy would not have applied anyway,” she said.

To qualify as a flood, the water must be deep, deeper than just soaking the carpet and ruining everything in its pathway. Besides, flood insurance is expensive.

“Flood insurance is designed for catastrophic loss,” Johnson said. “Flood policies have a really high deductible.”

For most Americans, flood insurance is purchased through the National Flood Program, which will insure homes for losses up to $250,000.

On the other hand, homeowners can buy insurance from private carriers who have their own guidelines.

One of Johnson’s clients carries insurance through the national program.

“She had problems with her property; the rain washed away a retaining wall and did damage to her deck,” she said.

But the National Flood policy does not cover a deck, only the structure, Johnson said.

“Most people know that their homeowner’s policy does not cover floods,” she said.

The circumstances of what is covered, however, can be baffling. “If a tree got struck by lightning and fell over on the house, that’s a covered loss,” she said. “The tree caused the house to open up and the rains to come in - it wasn’t flooding.”

If a pipe bursts in the house, causing water damage to the sheet rock and the floor, the loss is covered by the homeowner’s insurance policy. “That is not a flood, it’s water damage,” she said.

But if a tree or a boulder falls into the house, as a result of fire, that’s a problem, Johnson said.

“You just don’t know if the National Flood Program will cover that,” she said. “The problem the people are having down the pass is because of a fire.”

With the exception of the rainstorm of Aug. 22, the previous water damage was initially caused by the lack of vegetation on the hillside, because of the Waldo Canyon fire of June 2012.

“The ground up there cannot saturate the rain,” Johnson said.

While Ute Pass homeowners can buy insurance from the National Flood Program, there is a waiting period. “But you have to specifically buy flood insurance separate from your homeowners’ policy,” she said.

One solution is the old-fashioned sump pump, which may or may not have worked during the rainstorm last month. As far as cleaning up the mess, Johnson offers some advice.

“It comes down to good old elbow grease,” she said.