As the waters recede, they leave behind an estimated $250 million in damage along with thousands of harmed homes — most of them not insured for flooding.
Flood insurance is required for residents in areas deemed high-risk, but elsewhere it’s voluntary.
This week’s floods haven’t been limited to flood plain areas, resulting in lots of uninsured victims, said John W. Oxendine, state insurance commissioner.
“I saw some potentially bankrupt families, people who are going to have serious financial problems,” he said after a helicopter tour.
He pegged the damage at a quarter-billion dollars and compared it to the 1994 floods in middle and south Georgia.
“That flooding covered a larger area, but this is more populated. It is definitely the worst I have seen in metro Atlanta.”
State Farm, the state’s largest home insurance company, recorded claims from more than 2,000 homes and businesses by midday Tuesday, said spokesman Roszell Gadson.
“Most of those are basic homeowners policies that do not include flood coverage,” he said. “There aren’t many citizens who have flood insurance in the areas that are not flood prone.”
The company represents about one of every four homeowners in Georgia.
Lee May, a DeKalb county commissioner, was among those flooded out of his home. “What I’m finding now is that the majority of people who were affected didn’t have flood insurance,” May said, adding that includes him.
Officials say it will be a while before there can be a full tally of claims, payouts and damages that uninsured homeowners will have to cover.
“There is still high water in some places, and there are some people who can’t even get to their properties,” said David Colmans, executive director of the Georgia Insurance Information Service. “It is going to be tough to pull out a number.”
The economic impact of the flooding will be tightly focused, said economist Roger Tutterow of Mercer University.
In a region of nearly 5 million people, only a fraction are hit hard. Those without insurance could find themselves with a painful dilemma: Repair or not?
A surge of repairs will help the economy, Tutterow said. “Anytime we have a natural disaster it is stimulative in some sense because there will be some demand for things that need to be replaced.”
Business may get better for companies that do remodeling, renovation and decoration. But the floods have disrupted stores and restaurants and spending on repairs may cut into discretionary purchases, he said.
“Those two forces work against each other.”
Some homeowners who were literally underwater these past few days might also be figuratively under water on their mortgages — owing more than their homes are worth -- which means they’ll have no equity against which to borrow for repairs.