Coastal Residents Deserve Flood insurance
In light of your excellent coverage of the massive response to devastation left by Hurricane Andrew in Florida and Louisiana, I read with great concern the article by Beth Millemann published in the Perspective section Aug. 30. The article described the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) as the "Savings and Loan of the Sea."
The first of many major flaws in Ms. Millemann's article is that the catastrophic destruction caused by Hurricane Andrew, upon which she so heavily relies in condemning the NFIP, did not inflict any significant flood damage; and flood damage is why Congress created the NFIP in the first place.
The Sun's accounts confirm that wind and hurricane-spawned tornadoes accounted for most of the damage, and most of that happened many miles from the seashore.
The second error is her contention that "the bulk of the National Flood Insurance Program's 2.5 million policies now line the sea: 72 percent insure development along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico and another 10 percent insure development along the Great Lakes."
This is totally incorrect, as can be seen from the General Accounting Office study, from which she apparently derived the 72 percent figure.
The GAO reports that 72 percent of NFIP flood insurance policies cover properties located in coastal and inland portions of coastal communities.
But the significant fact is that these communities, including Great Lakes communities, contain thousands of square miles, and only relatively small portions are actually exposed to flooding from beachfront waters.
In fact, only 3 percent of NFIP policies insure properties in coastal beach zones where they are exposed to possible wave action. Ninety-five percent of the NFIP claims are paid to property owners who live in non-coastal areas and inland portions of coastal communities.
In referring to the growing sum of taxpayer funds committed for the victims of this disaster, Ms. Millemann contends that "the enormous financial disaster wrought by Andrew would not have been possible without their tax dollars," and that a "stream of tax dollars is one of two factors that helped make possible the explosion of seafront development during the past 40 years."
This totally ignores the fact that most of the victims of Hurricane Andrew's winds resided far inland from the seafront development she so sharply condemns.
Seafront residents are clearly not the ones who have required the vast expenditures of federal and local assistance following Hurricane Andrew.
It is apparent that the villains in Ms. Millemann's article are the residents and businesses that face our oceans and the Great Lakes, those whose perceived folly in settling these communities has been allegedly compounded by the services that their tax dollars have enabled their communities to provide for them.
The essence of Ms. Millemann's article is that people should not live on the coast, let alone do business there. She notes a rising population whose density is bringing pollution and threatening wildlife habitat.
That is indeed a challenge for society, but her solutions pose even more serious challenges to America's freedom and institutions.
The unspoken conclusion she appears to be recommending is that the government should relieve itself of the responsibility of assisting future hurricane victims, not only be denying flood insurance, but by forcibly ousting the residents of coastal
communities and compelling their retreat to such "safe" territory as government may define.
Unfortunately, there is no "high ground." America is exposed to a great array of natural disasters. Just to assure protection from the ravages of storms like Hurricane Andrew, one would have to draw that line more than a hundred miles from the coast . . . and still be exposed to other natural disasters such as tornadoes and earthquakes.
Aside from thwarting the obvious desire of the public to enjoy coastal areas, Ms. Millemann's thesis would spell the end of the coastal tourist trade and recreation industry, the loss of property taxes and diminished government services ranging from education to health care.
Perhaps recognizing that such a position could not be seriously accepted by Congress or the American people, Ms. Millemann focuses on that relatively small strip of land where wave action and flooding from coastal waters could occur. She attributes to these property owners the potential for all of the obvious losses which could occur miles and miles inland.
Flooding is the most frequent cause of disaster in America, yet most of it occurs in the inland sections of the country.
Hurricane Hugo inflicted approximately $7 billion of damages, but 95 percent of the property loss resulted from the high wind, which is not insured by the NFIP. Only 5 percent came from flooding, and much of that was well inland from the coast, as a result of hurricane-related rain.