Kentucky agents report that few properties have flood insurance in the event of widespread devastation

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Insurance agents in flood-hit Hazard, Kentucky, said Monday that their towns were inundated with river water and mud, but few residents had flood insurance.

“From what I know, almost nobody has flood insurance and they have 4 to 5 feet of water in their homes,” said Tim Ison, an agent in Hazard, in Perry County, part of a four-county area that saw at least 30 people were killed and hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed.

Ison writes mostly auto policies and said his agency has been swamped with dozens of claims for vehicles that were damaged in the flood in the past five days.

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“The mud is amazing,” Ison said. “They took truck after truck from the parking lots around here, but it’s everywhere. And a lot of people still don’t have power.

Laura Feltner, owner of State Farm Agency in Hazard, which writes policies for homeowners, said she was too busy to speak Monday morning. Another agency reported widespread damage to homes, most of which did not have National Flood Insurance Program policies or private flood coverage. Several other agencies in the flooded cities did not return phone calls. Others reported that agents helped get aid, including food and water, to displaced people.

Rescue workers were still trying to reach the missing people Monday morning but were hampered by debris piled up by the floods, according to media reports. Kentucky’s governor said he believed rescue crews “will be finding bodies for weeks, many of them swept hundreds of yards, perhaps a quarter-mile-plus from where they were last located,” according to CNN and NBC News.

More than 12,000 people were without power, another danger as temperatures are expected to rise later this week. Meanwhile, more rain was expected today.

“Many of these places have never flooded. So if they’ve never flooded, those people won’t have flood insurance,” Donald Mobelin, the mayor of Hazard, told CNN. “If they lose their home, it’s a total loss. There will be no insurance check to help with this. We need cash donations,” he said, referring to an aid fund set up by the state.

Lack of flood insurance in the region is not unusual. Surveys in recent years show that only 7% of Americans have a flood policy. And flood insurance rates for many properties in vulnerable areas are going up this year after the Federal Emergency Management Agency overhauled its risk assessments to be more data-driven and fair.

Liability claims may arise at some point. The Associated Press reported that the coal industry, although reduced, could have worsened the flooding. The hardest-hit areas of eastern Kentucky received between 8 and 10.5 inches of rain in 48 hours, and land degradation caused by coal mining may have changed the landscape enough to help rivers and streams reach record levels.

Volunteers from the local Mennonite community clean up debris from a flood-damaged house at Ogden Hollar in Hindman, Kentucky, on Saturday. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

“Decades upon decades of strip mining and mountaintop removal leaves the land unable to absorb some of this runoff during periods of heavy rainfall,” said Emily Satterwhite, director of Appalachian Studies at Virginia Tech.

The North Fork of the Kentucky River reached 20.9 feet (6.4 meters) in Whitesburg — more than 6 feet above the previous record — and reached a record 43.5 feet (13.25 meters) in Jackson, National Weather Service meteorologist Brandon said Bonds.

Melinda Hurd, 27, was forced to leave her home in Martin, Kentucky, Thursday afternoon when the Great Sand River rose to her front steps — and then kept coming.

“As soon as I got off my steps, it was waist high,” she told The Associated Press. She was staying with two of her dogs at Jenny Wiley State Park in Prestonsburg, about 20 minutes from her home.

Heard’s neighbors were not so lucky; some were stuck on their roofs waiting to be rescued.

Many people in this part of the Appalachians did not have any homeowners insurance, according to news reports.

Evelyn Smith lost everything in the floods that devastated eastern Kentucky, saving only her grandson’s muddy tricycle. But she has no plans to leave the mountains that have been her home for 50 years, the AP reported.

Like many families in this dense, forested region of hills, deep valleys and winding streams, the Smiths’ roots run deep. Her family has lived in Knott County for five generations. They have built bonds with people that have sustained them even as an area long mired in poverty has lost more jobs with the collapse of the coal industry.

After rapidly rising waters from nearby Troublesome Creek flooded her rental trailer, Smith moved in with her mother. At 50, she is disabled, suffers from a chronic respiratory disorder and knows that she will not return to where she lived; her landlord told her he would not put the trailers back in the same spot. Smith, who didn’t have insurance, doesn’t know what her next move will be.

“I cried until I really couldn’t cry anymore,” she said. “I’m just in shock. I really don’t know what to do now.”

For many people who lost their homes, ties to family and neighbors will become increasingly important after the floods destroyed homes and businesses and engulfed small towns. Still, in a part of the state that includes seven of the nation’s 100 poorest counties, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, they may not be enough for people already living on the edge.

The flooding spanned West Virginia, where Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for six southern counties, and Virginia, where Gov. Glenn Youngkin also issued an emergency declaration that allowed officials to mobilize resources in the flooded southwestern part of the state.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Top photo: A house in Eastern Kentucky is washed away on a road Saturday after a week of historic rains flooded many areas of Kentucky. (Michael Clevenger/Courier Journal via AP)

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