Bringing over 40 inches of rain to the Upper Texas Coast, many communities are just beginning to assess the damages left behind by Tropical Storm Imelda.  Only two years after Hurricane Harvey’s unprecedented rainfall, Imelda submerged some areas left untouched by Harvey, while also striking hard-hit communities that are still struggling to recover from Harvey’s damage.  During Hurricane Harvey, a staggering 68% of homes that experienced flooding in Harris County  lay outside of the 100-year floodplain, changing our assumptions about what areas are safe from floods. 

While you can never be sure whether your home will flood or not, preparing for the next flood event includes understanding your home’s flood risk and purchasing flood insurance, if needed. “Given the repetitive flood events experienced in Harris County in 2015, 2016, 2017, and now Imelda, residents need to be aware of the flood risk for their current home or any future home they are considering renting or buying,” said Amy Dinn, Managing Attorney with Lone Star Legal Aid’s Environmental Justice team, part of LSLA’s Equitable Development Initiative (EDI).  Dinn shared the following tips for finding out your home’s current flood risk and improving your chances of not leasing or buying a home that might flood in the future:

 Investigate whether the property is prone to flooding and purchase flood insurance, if needed.

Review FEMA flood maps at: https://msc.fema.gov/portal

  • Note: The FEMA Flood Map Service Center (MSC) (above) is the official public source for flood hazard information. Flood insurance requirements and recommendations are based on FEMA maps.  These maps can change at any time, so it’s best to check them on a regular basis – at least every 6 months.
  • Compare the elevation of flood plain with the slab elevation of your home.  Do not buy or lease a home in the 100-year floodplain, if at all possible.
  • Within 500-year floodplain, home height should be above 500-year flood plain elevation.  Do not buy or lease a home with elevation below 500-year flood plain, if at all possible.

A higher risk of storm surge exists in east and southeast Harris County below 25 feet. 

  • Avoid purchasing a home under 25 feet of elevation (see FEMA flood maps above).
  • Elevate the home above 25 feet.

Many streets are backup drainage systems: Compare the height of slab of house to crown of the street.

  • Avoid homes where slab is even with or just slightly above the crown of the street.
  • The slab should be 2 feet or more above the crown of the street.

Know whether your zip code is an evacuation area: http://prepare.readyharris.org/Evacuation-Map

New Rule: Homeowners Must Disclose Flood Risk

As of September 1, 2019, sellers in the State of Texas are now required to disclose to buyers or renters whether a home is in a:

  • 100-year Flood Plain;
  • 500-year Flood Plain;
  • Flood Pool;
  • In or near a reservoir; or
  • Whether the home has flooded before.

Recovering from the Storm: Flood Insurance and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Equal Justice Works Fellow with Lone Star Legal Aid’s Disaster Recovery Unit, Chase Porter explains that understanding flood insurance is key for homeowners to be able to receive help after a flood.  When flood insurance is not maintained, homeowners can lose their eligibility to receive other types of assistance.  “Flood insurance may be your only way of getting help making repairs after a flood – and whether or not you maintain your flood insurance can also affect your ability to receive federal assistance in the future,” shared Porter.

  • Whether you live in a high risk zone or not, flood insurance is very important because most homeowner’s insurance policies do not cover flood damage – and federal assistance through FEMA is only available if and when a national disaster has been declared.
  • Flood insurance policies are available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program, and can cost less than $400 per year.
  • Flood insurance claims for Tropical Storm Imelda can be filed here
  • As of 9/24/2019, Tropical Storm Imelda has not been declared a national disaster as of yet; FEMA assistance is not available for damages occurring due to Imelda, at this time.  However, community members are encouraged to contact Lone Star Legal Aid’s toll-free disaster legal hotline at 1-866-659-0666 for more information about recovering from Imelda.