Tropical Weather North Carolina

High winds and water surround a house as Hurricane Florence hit Swansboro, N.C., on Friday. AP/Tom Copeland

The mostly unpredictable Florence is guaranteed to be a prolific rainmaker as it churns inland.

The former fearsome hurricane is also certain to leave a heavy financial burden in its soggy wake.

In South Carolina, property owners haven’t been clamoring to buy the insurance they'd need to rebuild because of water damage. The number of flood policies in the state hasn't budged much other than a spike in 2014, even as development has exploded up and down the coast.

Meanwhile, South Carolina has been wracked by a succession of three destructive downpours since 2015.

“It’s flood damage we have to think about, but most people are in denial about it,” said Lynne McChristian, executive director of the Center for Risk Management Education and Research at Florida State University and a consultant to the Insurance Information Institute.

According to the latest data, 204,342 South Carolina properties, or about 9 percent, were covered by the federal government-run flood carrier as of July 31.

The number of policyholders is higher in wealthier coastal areas, where insurance is more likely to be required. In Horry and Georgetown counties, for example, nearly 25 percent are covered for flood damage.

That's not the case for poorer inland areas of the state that Florence was expected to soak this weekend.

In rural Dillon and Williamsburg counties, just 1 percent of the homes are covered for water damage, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees the National Flood Insurance Program.

The figures for Chesterfield, Darlington and Marlboro counties are even lower, coming in at less than one-half of a percent.

As for everyone else who lives in those areas, they’ll be forced to pay out of pocket or seek federal disaster assistance if rising waters damage their properties.

For the better part of the past 50 years, anyone with a federally insured mortgage who lives in a designated high-risk area is required to buy a special policy to cover flooding, typically from the federal government.

The premiums can range from hundreds to thousands of dollar a year. The maximum payout is $250,000, plus another $100,000 for contents. The restrictions include a 30-day waiting period. And not everyone is required to buy a policy.

“If you don’t live in a high-risk flood zone it’s optional,” McChristian said Friday.

As a result, the majority of homeowners who fall in that category roll the dice and opt for the “low-cost solution.” 

“People look at the cost of getting flood insurance versus the cost of not having it,” McChristian said. “There’s a big cost of not having it.”

She noted that 20 percent of all flood claims involve properties in “low- to moderate-risk zones.”

“That should be eye-opening to some people,” McChristian said.

S.C. Department of Insurance Director Ray Farmer has been urging homeowners to buy the extra protection regardless of where they live since at least 2015, when historic rains triggered massive flooding in the Midlands.

“Our entire state is in the flood zone, in my opinion,” Farmer said during  an Aug. 1 Cabinet meeting in Columbia. “We encourage any citizen to purchase flood insurance. It’s fairly inexpensive.”

Contact John McDermott at 843-937-5572 or follow him on Twitter at @byjohnmcdermott