Fixed for failure

Flooding, the country’s most costly disaster, touches every state, from the coast to mountains.

The National Flood Insurance Program helps survivors rebuild — but it’s also deep in debt

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A program in trouble

The National Flood Insurance Program has paid out nearly 2.5 million flood insurance claims since its inception in 1968, or nearly $70 billion.

But extreme events like Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey have pushed the safety net to its breaking point and saddled the program with over $20.5 billion in debt.

Each red ring represents the number of flood claims filed within an approximate area to maintain anonymity.

Palmetto State payouts

South Carolina has received the tenth highest total payout of any state and generated over 45,000 flood claims dating back to 1975.

Although the most money was paid out along the coast — Charleston, Horry, and Georgetown counties claimed three quarters of the state's total $920 million — homeowners living farther inland have seen their share of flood damages too.

More frequent flooding

Over one third of all South Carolina flood insurance claims were filed in the last five years.

These claims total over $480 million, which is one third of all money paid out, with inflation, since 1975.

Each white circle represents the number of flood claims filed between 2015 and 2020.

Homes at repeated risk

With typically secret data, the Post and Courier matched some of these flood claims with street addresses, identifying about one-third of South Carolina’s most vulnerable properties.

National insurance leaves these homeowners with little choice but to rebuild and wait for the next flood.

On the Battery

This property, in the high-dollar southwest portion of downtown Charleston, also sits on some of the city’s lowest and most vulnerable land. Estimated at $8.2 million in value, its owners made three flood claims between 1989 and 2017.

In all, it’s reaped $379,000 in flood damages, including receiving the maximum amount allowed in its policy in 2017.

Cycle of disaster

Some homeowners have been paid far less, but flood even more frequently. This home, in a West Ashley neighborhood with persistent drainage issues, filed nine claims totalling $40,000 between 1989 and 2008. It’s no longer insured.

Living on the edge

Some properties have been paid close to their value in damages. This house backing up to the upper Ashley River has been paid 60 percent of its estimated value of $759,000.

Flooding farther inland

Even in places near wetlands, flooding can strike repeatedly. This property in Hanahan has had eight flood claims between 1989 and 2017, including twice in that last year.

Vulnerable and without coverage

This house along the Intracoastal Waterway flooded eight times by 2001. The waterway’s stretch near Myrtle Beach can overflow when nearby rivers back up with floodwaters.

This property’s policy was dropped some time later, but it has continued to flood.

Data and visuals by Bryan Brussee

Reporting by Chloe Johnson and Stephen Hobbs

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