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Redmer: Most Main Street businesses don’t have flood insurance

Damage along Main Street in Ellicott City as seen Monday. Maryland Insurance Administration Commissioner Al Redmer Jr. says he is not surprised many business owners did not have flood insurance after speaking with many during a town hall meeting Monday afternoon. ‘A number of people explored flood insurance and they made the informed decision not to buy it,’ he says. ‘In their view they felt it was expensive.’ (Juliet Linderman/AP Photo)

Damage along Main Street in Ellicott City as seen Monday. Maryland Insurance Administration Commissioner Al Redmer Jr. says he is not surprised many business owners did not have flood insurance after speaking with many during a town hall meeting Monday afternoon. ‘A number of people explored flood insurance and they made the informed decision not to buy it,’ he says. ‘In their view they felt it was expensive.’ (Juliet Linderman/AP Photo)

In talking to several dozen business owners on Ellicott City’s Main Street, Maryland Insurance Administration Commissioner Al Redmer Jr. found that an “overwhelming majority” of them do not have flood insurance.

Business owners and residents are reeling from a historic flash flood Saturday that dumped six inches of rain in less than two hours on the historic thoroughfare, killing two. Many people still have not been given access to their stores and homes as clean-up efforts are underway.

Redmer met the business owners during a town hall meeting Monday afternoon. While he was not surprised many did not have flood insurance, Redmer said in many cases, it wasn’t for lack of information or knowledge.

Main Street slopes dramatically toward the Patapsco River and has long been susceptible to flooding.

“A number of people explored flood insurance and they made the informed decision not to buy it,” Redmer said Tuesday. “In their view they felt it was expensive.”

Megan Clark, who owns a toy store on Main Street, said she decided against purchasing a policy because it would have cost her $300 a month.

“Flood insurance was just insane down here,” she said. “Fifty percent of the owners probably didn’t have insurance, so it’s going to be left to whatever we can come up with together to help everyone get back in their stores.”

Ed McDonough, a spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, said officials won’t have a comprehensive damage estimate until building inspectors say damaged structures are stable enough for closer examination.

Chance for change

At Monday’s meeting, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman pledged to develop a master plan to prevent future flooding disasters.

“I don’t think anything could have stopped this tragedy,” he said, “but, as you know, we have flooding. Now, unfortunately, in some ways, it’s an opportunity for us to make some changes.”

While most of the property damage is flood-related, Redmer expects to see damage from power loss as well – a restaurant losing $10,000 worth of food in a refrigerator that went bad, for example.

Redmer said Saturday’s flash flood was similar in terms of “loss and devastation” to Hurricane Isabel, which was a tropical storm when it came up the Chesapeake Bay and hit Maryland in 2003. Isabel affected many more people around the state, however, and caused significant wind damage, which did not happen in Ellicott City.

“There were many sad stories and certainly the devastation was significant,” Redmer said of Saturday’s flooding. “Devastation in Ellicott City is no different that devastation during Hurricane Sandy in Crisfield.”

For businesses that will have to rebuild, once owners can get into their shops, they will have to take inventory of property that’s lost or destroyed. Upon filing a claim with their insurance company, business owners will have to get an adjuster to look at the damage, a process that could take longer than usual due to a high volume of claims, said Redmer.

“It should not be anything that is excessive or unreasonable,” he said.

Main Street residents and business owners will have to stay vigilant while rebuilding, as disaster areas often attract scammers. Redmer advised people to do their homework and make sure they are dealing with contractors and adjusters who are licensed, insured and from reputable businesses.

The situation in Ellicott City provides an important lesson everyone, particularly business owners, Redmer added.

“All of us, especially those that have not sustained a loss, we should be creating an inventory of our own property,” said Redmer. “Disasters like this are a reminder for all of us that we need to periodically meet with a trusted advisor.”