SAN MATEO (CBS SF) — Most Californians have been more focused on saving water than worrying about floods, prompting thousands of Bay Area homeowners to cancel their flood insurance policies, but FEMA says they might want to reconsider.

“The drought definitely decreases people’s sense of danger from flooding,” FEMA’s Jeff Lusk said.

Lusk says at least 30,000 Californians have let their flood insurance policies lapse, accounting for a 12 percent drop – more than any other state.

A strong El Nino forecasted for this winter means the risk for flooding could be very real.

Flood insurance policies have been dropping 20 to 30 percent in major population centers from Sacramento to Santa Ana, though the biggest decrease has been in San Mateo County, where coverage has dropped by a staggering 72 percent in the past three years.

To see if your home is in a flood zone, check here.

FEMA says that may be because it is currently remapping flood zones in the high-risk San Mateo area.  It has long been designated a flood zone and as as a result many residents have been required to have flood insurance.

However, during the remapping process, the flood zone designation has been temporarily lifted so some residents may have opted to let their previously mandatory coverage lapse.

But, FEMA’s aging levies put San Mateo at high risk for flooding, and with El Nino looming, they warn not to wait for the new flood maps to renew policies.

In addition to the drought, Lusk says the decrease could be due in part to more expensive policies after the feds got rid of subsidies following Hurricane Sandy.

Lusk points out that policies can range from a few hundred dollars, to more than $1,000 per year.  However, “Food insurance can cover up to $250,000 in damage, while the average FEMA grant only amounts to $5,000” he said.

Nearly a quarter of all flooding happens outside of mapped zones, so homes outside flood zones may still need coverage.  FEMA is also constantly remapping, so homeowners may be in flood zones without knowing it.

“Most people have their wealth tied up in their house here in the Bay Area, and you’re hosed,” Lusk said.



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