Red Cross helping Dorchester Road residents after flooding (copy)

Charlestowne Village Mobile Home Park residents were forced to evacuate after heavy rains flooded a residential and business area in North Charleston in August 2015. File/Staff.

Jennifer Fanning has been piling her floor covering materials up off the floor. She's been through this drill before.

In 2105 her North Charleston store was flooded out after heavy rain in August, leaving her with $300,000 in damages. Then rain came through the roof during the October deluge that swamped much of the state. In 2016, pools of rain from Hurricane Matthew leaked in through the walls.

"I'm piling them as high as we can them. That's all we can do. I hope and pray it won't happen," she said.

No, she doesn't have flood insurance — like most residential and business property owners on the flood-prone South Carolina coast and as many as 98 percent in mid-state places like Richland County that flooded in 2015. That's a specter of disaster with the storm surge and rain that big hurricane like Irma could bring.

Despite a recent report that said South Carolina is one of the best insured states when it comes to flooding, the statistic that one of every two properties on the coast have coverage masks the reality.

The problem is, those structures are in a designated high-risk flood zone. In those areas, 70 percent of Charleston County property owners are insured, as are 49 percent in Horry County and 75 percent in Beaufort County, the highest populated coastal areas. 

But only about 38 percent of the property owners overall in Charleston County have the insurance; in Horry County, 24 percent; in Beaufort County, 54 percent, according to the Institute of Insurance Information. It's not like the uninsured properties are immune to rising water.

"Everybody is in a flood zone. Thirty percent of losses occur in zones that are not high risk," said Andrew Muller, president of Mappus Insurance Agency. "The area is grossly under-insured, and it's too late now. Even if (Irma) doesn't come here, we're going to get a lot of rain and there will be flooding." 

Outside the zones, the financial toll could be grim. Applications for flood insurance tend to spike before or after a major storm, but the insurance doesn't take effect for 30 days. Last week, nearly all private insurers had suspended offering wind or flood policies.

"It's too late at this point," Muller said.

"The reality is that 50 percent of the property owners on the coast are exposed," said Robert Hartwig, a University of South Carolina professor who previously ran the Insurance Information Institute. He added that "the overwhelmingly vast majority of people in the interior have no protection."

Fanning never got flood insurance because she wasn't in a high risk zone and doesn't own the Dorchester Road building that houses her Fanning Floor Covering and Design.

"Since it flooded, insurance — you can't afford it," she said.

Muller disagreed with that. The insurance for most homeowners won't cost more than $450 per year, he said.

"They ought to get it, because Irma is not going to be the last hurricane to go by this year," Muller said.

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Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.

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