NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. - The unexpected toll of Hurricane Ian has been devastating and costly flooding.
Hurricane Ian slammed Southwest Florida with the full force of a Category 4, changing communities there forever and killing over 100 people. While the storm lost most of its punch by the time it tracked through the Orlando region, its Category 1 classification was not enough to prepare residents for the full fury of the rains and storm surge to follow. The system dropped over 15" of rain and induced a storm surge that would change communities in Volusia County for years, flooding neighborhoods that had never seen high water. Accordingly, many did not carry flood insurance, compounding the impacts of Ian.
Maria DiCara and Heidi Lowe are dear friends and also work together at JB's Fish Shack on New Smyrna Beach. They both live in town, about five miles inland from the white sands and lapping seas. Despite their distance from the ocean, storm surge still found its way into their neighborhoods as they drove inland via tidal creeks. It entered homes as deep as four feet and being dirty and contaminated, destroyed anything it contacted like furniture, appliances, and drywall.
DiCara knew tidal creeks could be a problem but believed she was far enough away.
"I think we're at least a half a mile from the river…and we're right by a storm drain, so I kind of figured we're safe."
But she was not. The water first came up through the floors before seeping in from the doorways. Then, there was an alarming odor.
"It started smelling like gasoline inside, I think because all the cars outside were getting flooded out, outside. And it was all just mixing, so it started smelling really bad."
With her daughter and dogs also in her care, she made the decision at that moment to abandon their home and risk the floodwaters outside to escape. Unfortunately, her home was a total loss, and they were forced to move.
While they made it out safely physically, memories like photos and heirlooms of their family did not.
"Everything we've worked hard for this house, just gone, and that's where it really hurt."
Maria Lowe had a similar experience and while her home wasn't a total loss, she now faces up to an estimated $80,000 in repairs and like Maria and did not have flood insurance.
"It came in and it came in fast!"
Her home, in the family for decades, has never flooded. Here, waters rose over 2 feet into the house. She lamented the losses.
"Drywall, floors, we lost all our cabinets, all our appliances, obviously furniture."
With the high season around the corner and short-term rental rates going up for the season, she can't afford to stay somewhere else during construction and must sleep on a mattress plopped atop the cold, hard, concrete base floor.
"We're unfortunately back in the house, staying because we can't find anywhere to rent and places that are $500/we are now $900/week, so it's pretty hard when you have to pay out of pocket and then pay rent for another place."
Her home may not be fully repaired until early 2023.
While they'd never flooded to date, their homes are located in or near 100-year flood zones, which means due to adjacent waterways or proximity to low areas, there's an approximate 1 in 4 chance during a 30-year mortgage that a home will flood.
If you're not sure of your flood zone and need to buy flood insurance, you can check by inputting your address into the FEMA website. It's important to remember that flooding is not covered by a homeowner's policy and separate insurance rates for flooding can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars a year, paid upfront. As flood losses can easily exceed $100,000, it's important to consider your personal risk and exposure potential.