Friday, May 20, 2011

The Great Flood of 2011 (Part XII)




Insurance, loans flood in

Published 12:02am Friday, May 20, 2011

VIDALIA — While the waters of the mighty Mississippi River are causing many area businesses to lose out on revenue during these hard times, two area industries are seeing a boom like no other.

Area banks and insurance agencies have been working late hours during the past three weeks as Concordia Parish residents are rushing out to purchase flood insurance to protect their houses in case of a disaster.

Most flood insurance policies require a 30-day waiting period before protection begins, but Delta Bank President and Chief Executive Officer Cliff Merritt said a ruling by the Federal Emergency Management Agency has created a way for homeowners to get immediate coverage.

“You can avoid the 30-day wait if you take out a loan from an area bank where the property at risk of being flooded is used as collateral in the loan,” he said.

Merritt said hundreds of parish residents have already taken advantage of the FEMA ruling, and things do not look like they are going to slow down any time soon.

“We have been very, very busy, as most banks have,” he said. “But this is just our role in this flood fight, and we have to be there for our friends and neighbors.”

The loan can be taken out for any reason the homeowner has, and the insurance policy can be gained by taking out the smallest possible loan the bank offers, Merritt said.

Even with insurance available at a minimum loan requirement, Merritt said the amount of the loans have differed greatly.

“It can be any size loan as long as the property in question is taken as collateral,” he said. “And the sizes and kinds of loans have run the gamut.”

With Delta Bank locations from Ferriday to Lake Providence, Merritt said the majority of the more than 300 loan applications he has dealt with in the past two weeks have come from Concordia Parish residents.

Once the bank approves the loan, the clerk of courts office has to record it.

In the past seven days, the Concordia Parish Clerk of Court’s Office has recorded more than 300 different items, with approximately 230 of them being mortgages for flood coverage.

“I have an idea that we haven’t gotten to the big part of it yet either,” Clerk of Court Clyde Ray Webber said. “But we are just taking them as we come.”

Webber said the office has been steadily busy over the past two weeks, but it is nothing his employees can’t handle.

“We have been real steady, but it hasn’t been too overwhelming,” he said. “Everything else has been quite slow for some time, so we have just been moving workers around from different departments to help with the amount of mortgages we have been receving.”

Webber said the mortgages are arriving by the bundle, and his office will continue to work on them until they are all complete.

After the bank approves the loan and the clerk of court’s office records them, homeowners then make a trip to any of their local insurance agencies to seek out their coverage.

Bill Mayer Insurance Agency Agent Michelle Brigman said her office has seen more than 200 flood policies in the past three weeks.

“I have been here for four years, and this is the most flood policies I have ever had to write,” she said.

Brigman said the rush started toward the end of April when homeowners started coming in to buy normal policies.

“When people started finding out about the loan policy, we started getting more and more customers coming in,” she said.

Brigman even said that homeowners who previously bought the regular insurance policy with the 30-day wait began applying for loans and coming back to change their policy for the immediate protection.

The company offers both residential and commercial policies that cover up to $250,000 in damage, and Brigman said the majority of the policies have been for the maximum amount.

Brigman also said the range of homeowners coming in has been very diverse.

“We have had people who can just afford the basic coverage to people who take the maximum and then add excess coverage,” she said. “Everyone has been coming in to buy policies.”

With so many loans being applied for, the process is bound to be slowed down for many, and Merritt said the process is bottlenecked at area banks.

“Everybody is trying to do this at one time, and they have to start at the banks,” he said. “There are only a certain number of banks in the parish, and there are a lot of different insurance agencies people can go with.”

Merritt said to help with the excess work, his employees have been staying late to help review as many loans as possible.

“We are virtually focused on nothing else but this,” he said. “All while we are preparing to move in case of a disaster.

Until the flood threat dies down, Merritt said Delta Bank is going to continue to take loan applications.

“This has just been a great cooperative effort by everyone involved,” he said. “The banks, insurance companies and the clerk of court’s office are all playing their role in this process, and it really says a lot about our community spirit.”

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