The Puerto Rico Planning Board revealed that, according to estimates made in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, some 200,000 homes are located in flood-prone areas, as per flood maps for insurance rates.
Of these, it is estimated that some 30,000 may have experienced substantial damage from the back-to-back hurricanes that struck Puerto Rico last September, as defined by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP.)
Planning Board President María del C. Gordillo pointed out the importance of knowing the percentage of structural damage, as this will let owners know if they must repair the structure complying with current flood regulations.
The term substantial damage is applied to those structures located in flooded areas, also known as “Special Flood Hazard Area,” where the total cost of repairs following a disaster excee 50 percent of its market value.
For example, if the value of a structure before the damage was $200,000 (not including land value), and repairs are estimated at $120,000, this structure has “substantial damage,” the agency stated.
This is calculated after a visual inspection of the property by a state, federal or local government official. The observations are incorporated into a program developed for this purpose, as well as the estimated cost of repairs and property values. This allows calculating the percentage of damage to the structure. Once the percentage of damage is computed that information is relayed to the property owner via a letter.
The assessment of substantial damage caused by Hurricanes Irma and María will begin in coming days by staff from FEMA, the municipalities, the Planning Board and the Permits Management Office, Gordillo said.
The public servant also said the Planning Board will make the final determination of substantial damage for properties in the 74 municipalities participating in the NFIP program. Meanwhile, towns participating in the NFIP as separate communities — Bayamón, Carolina, Guaynabo and Ponce — will provide the information on the determination separately.
Once it has been determined that a structure is within a floodable area and substantially damaged, any repair or reconstruction must be done so that it meets the current “Regulations on Special Flood Hazard Areas,” reducing future flood damage.
The Regulations includes the following reccomendations:
- Modifying the ground level as garage space and build top floor as a dwelling;
- Waterproofing (floodproofing) in the case of commercial structures;
- Maintain all electrical equipment and rebuild the entire electrical system on the flood-prone level;
- Demolition and relocation of structure outside the floodplain;
- Reconstruction of houses on columns instead of a slab on the ground; and,
- Floor level above the base flood elevation .
Meanwhile, homeowners who have a flood insurance policy from the NFIP and a determination that the structure is substantially damaged, may have access to additional funds (up to $30,000) to mitigate future flood damage. This additional amount is known as increased cost of compliance, the Planning Board explained.
“It is important that citizens comply with the regulation,” Gordillo said. “This seeks to reduce loss of life and property when considering the danger to which they are exposed.”
Furthemore, it “helps reduce exposure of rescuers during hazardous events and investment of funds from state and federal governments to cover material losses,” she said.