As the National Flood Insurance Program languishes in legislative limbo, an unfortunate reminder of the destructive power of tropical storms is unfolding in Central America.
While the storms are only somewhat predictable, the lapse of the program at 12:01 a.m. June 1, was entirely predictable. The 40-year old NFIP is cash-strapped, and has long existed on a series of temporary extensions. Legislators do not return from the Memorial Day recess until June 7, so the NFIP will be expired until then.
While stand-alone bills to extend the program have been introduced in both chambers, a long-term funding solution has foundered on a dispute over whether to include funding for wind damage in the program. The insurance industry has fought the wind inclusion, claiming that, if enacted, private insurers would be forced from the market. Legislators from Gulf states are pushing for wind inclusion, claiming that in the absence of one, private insurers will dump their losses on the NFIP.
While the legislative dispute persists, the lapse of the program has real world implications, says Charles Symington, SVP of government affairs for the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America.
“The series of temporary extensions, last-minute actions and service lapses during such a delicate period in the American economy is troubling to agents, homeowners and small businesses,” Symington says. “The National Flood Insurance Program is meant to provide some level of stability and protection for homeowners and businesses against dangerously unpredictable and costly flooding events, not to be an unpredictable ‘here one minute-gone the next’ program subject to monthly congressional action.”
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the hemisphere, Tropical Storm Agatha, made landfall along the border of Mexico and Guatemala and triggered flash flooding and landslides in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and southern Mexico as it made its way inland. Initial death tolls vary from around 80 to 125.
Dr. Tim Doggett, principal scientist at Boston-based AIR Worldwide, notes that construction in Guatemala and El Salvador is dominated by un-reinforced masonry (URM) construction.
"While wind speeds of 45 mph would not be expected to cause significant damage to URM buildings, it is quite vulnerable to flooding," Doggett says. "Traditional adobe construction—another highly vulnerable construction type—is also fairly common, particularly in more rural areas, which is where the bulk of the damage occurred."
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