Storm damage and insurance coverage

The rising Grand River in lower Michigan has driven hundreds of people from their homes in several western Michigan communities.

Heavy rains and melting snow are pushing the river toward a record high near Grand Rapids.

At least 100 homes in the Comstock Park area north of Grand Rapids were flooded.

Following several dry seasons, it appears the Upper Midwest is on track for a wet one this year.

The situation has left many Michigan residents dealing with damage and questions about insurance coverage. While damage from wind is generally covered under a standard homeowners policy, flooding is not, reports the Insurance Institute of Michigan .

The insurance association advises residents to check with their insurance agent or company regarding current coverage limitations and, more importantly, inquire about adding coverage to your homeowners or renters policy to protect against such losses.

Some of these related damages are covered under a standard homeowners, renters or auto insurance policy; some are covered to a noted limit; while other coverages typically apply through a separate policy endorsement.

“This spring has been especially wet,” said Pete Kuhnmuench, Executive Director of the Insurance Institute of Michigan. “Now with the added threat of tornadoes, residents need to ensure they have the right coverage to assist them with storm damage.”

Damages caused by high winds, tornadoes and hail are covered by homeowners, renters and commercial insurance policies, Kuhnmuench said.

However, flood coverage is excluded from homeowners and renters insurance policies. This protection is available through the purchase of a flood insurance policy.

Many licensed agents offer flood insurance.

If you’re having trouble finding flood insurance, call the National Flood Insurance Program’s agent referral program at 1-888-CALL FLOOD.

Also, visit to assess your flood risk, get an estimated cost for flood insurance coverage, or browse through a list of insurance agents writing flood insurance coverage in your locale.

Insured storm-covered perils include:

– Property damage from hail, high winds and flying debris: Damage caused by high winds, tornadoes and hail is covered by homeowners, renters and commercial insurance policies. Homes or belongings damaged as a result of a fallen tree – whether it is your tree or a neighbor’s tree – are covered under your homeowners insurance policy.

– Power failure: While homeowners policies differ, food spoilage is normally excluded if the cause of loss is an off-premises power outage. Limited coverage may be added by endorsement (coverage usually up to $500)

– Basement water backup: Coverage for water backup in basements (drains/sewers) is excluded from flood insurance and most homeowners insurance policies. However, this coverage is available by endorsement on many homeowners insurance policies. Check with your insurance provider as coverage can vary by company.

Home contractor repair tips:

– Beware of rip offs. Carefully check the background of contractors and others who promise “cheap” repairs. IIM suggests checking with family and friends for referrals, or contacting your local home builders association or the Better Business Bureau.

– Obtain several estimates and request customer references. Be sure that estimates include all contractor info, including the contractor’s name, address and phone number and a workers’ compensation insurance certificate.

Basement flooding tips:

Officials recommend the following procedures be followed when pumping a basement to avoid serious damage, collapse or injury:

– Begin pumping when floodwaters are no longer covering the ground outside

– Pump the water out one foot at a time, mark the water level and wait overnight

– Check the water level the next day, if the level went back up (covered your mark) it is still too early to drain the basement.

– Wait 24 hours, and then pump the water down 1 foot again, checking the level the next day.

– When the water in the basement stops returning to your mark, pump out 2 or 3 feet and wait overnight.

– Repeat daily until all the water is out of the basement.

Health experts issued additional safety guidelines for homeowners who have experienced basement floods.

– Private water wells situated in a flooded area are considered unsafe and should not be used for drinking, cooking, brushing teeth, dish washing or clothes washing unless boiled for 10 minutes.

– While a basement is flooded, refrain from using plumbing fixtures whose discharge would increase the hazard.

– When entering a flooded basement, be cautious of electrical outlets and gas lines. Do not handle any electrical cords or appliances if the electricity is still on. Seek assistance before attempting to shut off electrical power. Do not light a match in an enclosed area where gas could be present.

– Drain all flooded basements or surface ponding by natural drainage or by pumping. Washing or flush down walls and floors, if possible, during the draining or pumping process.

– For a final clean-up of walls, floors, cupboards, dishes, and the like, use plenty of soap or dish washing compound. Use warm or hot water if possible. Areas may be disinfected by use of a chlorine solution. Use eight tablespoons or 1/2 cup of bleach per gallon of water. During the clean-up process in enclosed areas, be sure to provide as much ventilation as possible by opening windows and use of fans if electricity is available.

– Discard all foods that may have been in contact with the flood water. Follow the old adage, “When in doubt, throw it out.”

– The exterior of commercially canned foodstuffs must be washed thoroughly.

– Clothing, carpeting, upholstered furniture, toys, bedding and similar items should be discarded, unless they are cleaned and disinfected. Moveable objects should be put outdoors to dry and to be exposed to sunlight.