Earthquakes, floods & other catastrophes: Could they happen here?


Depositphotos_69207769_m-2015It’s sad and shocking to see the devastation in Italy from the recent earthquakes in Italy and the widespread flooding in Louisiana. Natural catastrophes are always difficult, particularly when there is heavy loss of life and when the devastation is severe enough to cause severe dislocation and change the character of a place. Our hearts go out to victims – we’ve listed some relief efforts at the end of this post.

When disasters occur, it’s also human nature to wonder: could it happen here? Let’s take a look.

New England & earthquakes
While some regions are more geographically disposed to certain catastrophic events like earthquakes, they can indeed happen anywhere. Most of the recent New England earthquakes have been minor, but we can and have experienced more severe quakes, such as the 1755 earthquake off Cape Ann, which registered at more than 6.0. While the odds are in our favor, experts say that the chance of a damaging earthquake in New England is not zero.

Plus, an earthquake doe not need to be devastating in scope to cause property damage and typical homeowners insurance policies do not cover damage from earthquakes. This video from the Insurance Information Institute talks about earthquake damage and offers some great advice that would increase the safety of your home and property regardless of whether we ever experience a damaging quake.

Floods & New England
Floods know no geographic boundaries. While people who live near rivers, oceans or in flood plains are at the most risk, many New Englanders have been taken by surprise by flash flooding from storms. According to a list of US Floods from 2001 to the present, floods are generally caused by excessive rainfall, excessive snowmelt, storm surge from hurricanes, and dam failure.

Some old timers may recall the The Great New England Flood of 1936 but we’ve had some recent doozies too: Hurricane Irene caused severe flooding. NECN cites other historic floods that wreaked havoc in our region.

Flash floods can be very dangerous and can take quite a toll on property. And, as with earthquakes, typical homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage. You need a separate flood insurance policy to be covered – and your policy must be in place for at least 30 days to be in effect, so a last-minute purchase when you hear about flooding potential would be too late. For more on protecting yourself from flood damage, see these posts:

September is a good time to focus on these matters since it September is National Preparedness Month. Ready.gov has before, during and after advice for all types of emergencies including floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards and more.

Disaster relief for Italian Earthquakes

Disaster relief for Louisiana floods

New England expects torrential rain from ‘Andrea’


Tropical Storm Andrea is expected to drench the East Coast this afternoon through Saturday – some areas should anticipate torrential rain and pockets of flash flooding. Follow an hour-by-hour forecast map from WCVB.
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There are flood watches for this afternoon through tomorrow in all New England states except Vermont at this time. These can be found at National Weather Service Watches, Warnings & Advisories pages
Connecticut
Maine
Massachusetts
New Hampshire
Rhode Island
Learn about what you can do before, during and after floods. With he potential for flash flooding, be particularly careful about driving. Ready.gov offers these safety tips.
Flash flood Driving Safety
The following are important points to remember when driving in flood conditions:

  • Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars causing loss of control and possible stalling.
  • A foot of water will float many vehicles
  • Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles including sport utility vehicles (SUV’s) and pick-ups.
  • Do not attempt to drive through a flooded road. The depth of water is not always obvious. The road bed may be washed out under the water, and you could be stranded or trapped.
  • Do not drive around a barricade. Barricades are there for your protection. Turn around and go the other way.
  • Do not try to take short cuts. They may be blocked. Stick to designated evacuation routes.
  • Be especially cautious driving at night when it is harder to recognize flood dangers.

Car shoppers: Watch out for flood-damaged cars


News reports from various states are warning car-buying consumers to be alert for vehicles that were damaged by Superstorm Sandy. In states directly affected by the flood, authorities are issuing alerts and consumer guidance – New Jersey state officials remind us that Sandy-flooded cars can be resold, but they must be properly been titled as such.
Car-buying consumers in other states should also be wary because damaged cars are often professionally refurbished and shipped to other parts of the country to be sold where consumers are unlikely to be on alert. We’ve noted before that even when cars “clean up nice,” they may well have electrical or engine damage that will surface later – this is particularly true of salt-water damage.
The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission offers the following sensible steps that used car buyers should take before making a purchase:

  • Check the vehicle’s title history and be wary if the vehicle has been titled multiple times over a short time period.
  • Obtain a vehicle history report from the dealer, or get one yourself from a reputable source; this will let you know if the car has been damaged in the past.
  • Look for an insurance company’s name on the title history, and contact the company for vehicle information.

The NJ MVC also offers ways to spot a flood damage car:

  • A musty or moldy smell or the strong scent of a deodorizer all over the car
  • Rust on metal parts where water would not normally touch
  • Water-stained upholstery or water damage on the door panels or seat belts
  • Mildew, silt or debris in areas around the engine compartment, under the carpeting or in the trunk.

For more tips on avoiding flood-damaged cars, see our prior Consumer alert: don’t buy a flood-damaged car which we issued after the 2010 floods in Rhode Island.

Spring floods: a nasty forecast. Is your home or business prepared?


The Insurance Information Institute reports that there is a strong potential for a nasty flood season. While the areas at highest risk are in the Upper Midwest, The national Weather Service says that parts of southern New England, New York and Pennsylvania are also at risk. And NWS reminds us that while snow runoff can increase the risk in some areas in the spring, flooding is a coast to coast threat to the United States and its territories in all months of the year. At floodsmart.gov, you can check your geographical risk via Flood Insurance Rate Maps.
Flood preparation for businesses
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has issued a checklist on Disaster Planning for Small Businesses, which covers key steps for preparation, as well as an overview of related insurance issues that you need to consider.
NAIC also issues a reminder that flood is not a covered peril in a standard business property insurance policy. They note that flood coverage can be purchased from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), administered by FEMA, but there is usually a 30-day waiting period for a policy to go into force. They suggest checking with your insurance agent if the flood insurance property limits from the NFIP are inadequate to cover your business.
AgilityRecovery, specialists in disaster recovery, says that your business is more likely to flood than burn down, so they offer this helpful Business Flood Preparedness Checklist.
Flood preparation for homeowners
The Insurance Information Institute offers a useful information on preparing for a flood and recovering from a flood. The site also offers a variety of other helpful resources related to disaster preparedness.
Floodsmart.gov is the official site of the National Flood Insurance Program. You can learn about obtaining residential coverage and what it covers. The site also offers advice on flood recovery and filing claims.
Additional flood resources
Flood Safety – resources from NOAA
Flood recovery resources and insurance issues
Consumer alert: don’t buy a flood-damaged car
Does homeowners insurance cover a flooded basement?

Consumer alert: don’t buy a flood-damaged car


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In the recent “200 year event” flooding in Rhode Island, hundreds if not thousands of cars were submerged in flood waters. Can those cars be salvaged? Probably not, according to experts. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) defines a flooded vehicle as one that has been completely or partially submerged in water to the extent that its body, engine, transmission or other mechanical component parts have been damaged.
According to Ronny Pucino, a body shop owner in Rhode Island, there are three main elements in a car that are affected by flooding: the upholstery, the engine and the electronics. The extent of any damage depends largely on the level of water that the car experienced. Cars that have had wheel-top level damage may be able to be salvaged if the owner acted quickly to address the damage. But when water reaches as high as the dashboard, it is more likely that the engine and the electronics have been compromised and the car will be unsalvageable.
Being alert for flood-damaged cars should be of concern to all used car buyers, regardless of geography. Often, damaged cars are professionally refurbished and shipped to other parts of the country to be sold. Experts say that flood-damaged cars end up going to places where consumers won’t be likely to be on alert. Even when cars “clean up nice,” they may well have electrical or engine damage.
Edmunds.com offers some good tips on how to avoid buying a flood damaged car. They present 6 tell-tale tips, which we’ve summarized, but click on the article for more detail.
1. Get a vehicle history report.
2. Be alert to unusual odors.
3. Look for discolored carpeting.
4. Examine the exterior for water buildup.
5. Inspect the undercarriage.
6. Be suspicious of dirt buildup in unusual areas.
CARFAX offers more excellent tips for detecting and avoiding flood-damaged cars. They also offer vehicle history reports for a fee, which could be a worthwhile investment if you find a car you’re thinking of purchasing.
One other consumer service is the NICB’s VINcheck, a free service provided to the public to assist in determining if a vehicle has been reported as stolen, but not recovered, or has been reported as a salvage vehicle by cooperating NICB members. You must have the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to perform a search, and a maximum of five VINCheck searches can be conducted within a 24 hour period.