WEST PITTSTON — Former West Pittston mayor Bill Goldsworthy occasionally thought about getting flood insurance for his home, but ultimately rejected the idea since it wasn’t located in a designated flood zone.
Then Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee visited the region in September 2011, sending the Susquehanna River over its banks and inundating Goldsworthy’s Montgomery Avenue home with 5 1/2 feet of water.
It was a painful, and expensive lesson, but one Goldsworthy took to heart. He immediately purchased a policy upon returning to his home.
Federal officials are hopeful homeowners across the nation will follow Goldsworthy’s lead. As part of National Flood Awareness week, they’re encouraging all homeowners to consider purchasing a policy, even if they’re not in a flood zone.
“Flooding can and does happen in any area,” said FEMA Region III administrator MaryAnn Tierney, noting that nearly 20 percent of all flood insurance claims originate outside of high-risk areas. “Make sure flooding doesn’t wipe you out and insure yourself.”
Luzerne County residents appear to be heeding the agency’s advice.
Flood insurance statistics maintained by FEMA show the number of insurance policies in effect in the county increased by 1.4 percent from 8,729 in June 2011, to 8,851 as of January 2013.
West Pittston, Jenkins Township and Duryea, which were some of the communities that were hit hardest by the September 2011 flood, were among the communities that saw the largest percentage increases. Jenkins Township saw the largest jump, increasing from only two policies in 2011 to 54 in 2013; Duryea policies nearly tripled, from 28 to 82; and West Pittston almost doubled, from 221 to 418.
While many communities saw a significant increase in the number of policies, others saw a significant decrease. The largest decreases were in Union, Jackson and Ross townships. Union dropped from 163 policies to only six; Jackson from 140 to nine, and Ross from 118 to eight.
Jim Brozena, former director of the Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority, attributes the changes to two factors: alterations to flood maps that changed the flood designation for thousands of properties, and an increase in awareness based on serious flooding events that have hit the region in the past few years.
New flood maps that went into effect in November 2012 resulted in changes in flood zones countywide. Some properties were removed from the flood zone, while others were added. That meant some homeowners who did not have have insurance were now required by their mortgage holder to obtain a policy, while others were able to drop the insurance if they chose.
Bob Jones, manager for Jenkins Township, said he suspects the new flood maps played a major role in the increase in policies there. He estimated about 35 properties were added to the flood zone by the new mapping.
Brozena said he suspects the experience of the 2011 flood also played a major role in several communities, including Duryea and West Pittston. “In West Pittston they had 200 houses in the flood zone, but over 800 properties were flooded,” Brozena said. “I think people certainly don’t want to have to go through that experience again and pay out of pocket.”
Goldsworthy can attest to that. He had to take out a $100,000 small business administration loan to repair damage to his home, he said. The government required him to obtain flood insurance as a condition of the loan, but he said he would have done it anyway.
“I feel confident now at least I have flood insurance if it happens again,” Goldsworthy said. “And it is going to happen again. It’s just a matter of time.”