TAMPA, Fla. – Aug. 10, 2015 – With a widespread cleanup underway after major flooding in the Tampa Bay area, some homeowners are learning the hard way the limits of their insurance coverage.

The bottom line: A standard homeowners policy does not cover flood damage from rising water.

"You're not covered at all," said Joshua Butts, owner of Cornerstone Insurance in Tampa. "They are going to have to pay out of pocket. We've seen people who have had damage but did not purchase a flood policy. That's what you don't want to see, and that's why we really try to get the message out to everybody we can tell."

In the South Lois Avenue area near Gandy Boulevard in South Tampa, Jon Dickson on Wednesday met with an adjuster to assess damage from the floodwaters and a large chunk of ceiling that had fallen onto his living room floor.

"We do have flood insurance," he said. "I got it. This thing is $30,000, probably," he said, gesturing to the water and roof damage.

Dickson, his wife and new baby recently moved to Oldsmar to escape the flood-prone neighborhood but still own the Lois Avenue home.

"If you know what to expect, you can plan for it. I knew (the house) would flood. I'd seen flood claims when we bought it. … We got ourselves protected."

Dickson said he likely will have to pay a deductible of some $2,000 for the flood damage and a separate deductible of $2,500 for the ceiling collapse, which would fall under the homeowners policy. He said the financial hit is "not fun, but we'll be fine."

The purchase of flood insurance is so significant in Tampa that Karyn Roeling, president of Seibert Insurance Agency here, and her agents insist on walking homeowners insurance clients through the process. They get a flood quote with their policy and must sign off if they decline the flood policy.

"In a lot of cases, flood insurance is not required for a mortgage, but everyone's in a flood zone," Roeling said.

Bill Grodman, an agent with Allstate in Tampa, said his office fielded several calls from homeowners seeking to rush a flood policy into place as the water was rising over the weekend. That can't be done, he said. There's a 30-day waiting period for a flood policy to take effect.

"A lot of times people buy homeowners insurance at the time they're buying the home," Grodman said. "A lot of time they're trying to save some money because they're putting a lot of money out."

Flood policies are sold by individual agents but are backed by the National Flood Insurance Program, which bases rates on variables such as Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps and individual communities' efforts to mitigate flood damage.

Agents say that for homes in low-risk areas, the premiums aren't that bad. Preferred flood rates for B, C and X zones that are considered to have a less than 1 percent chance of an annual flood range from $129 a year for $20,000 of structure coverage and $8,000 for contents coverage to $414 a year for $250,000 of structure coverage and $100,000 of contents coverage.

Those rates, though, can soar for more flood-prone areas such as coastal residences, where mortgage backers require them.

"Just a couple inches of rain flooding your house can cause tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage," Grodman said. "Even if you're not in a high-risk flood zone, we tell people, 'Hey, you live in Florida. You're surrounded by water. It's better to be safe than sorry."

Meanwhile, those who lost vehicles to the floodwaters will have to have comprehensive coverage on their auto policy to be reimbursed for damage. Comprehensive coverage addresses theft or damage caused by something other than a collision, such as fire, hail, flood and vandalism.

Comprehensive coverage is standard with most policies, agents said. But some motorists, particularly with older or less valuable cars, opt out of that type of coverage.

Because National Flood Insurance Program rates for homeowners insurance are heavily subsidized, the coverage scope is limited. That $250,000 structural coverage maximum is a hard cap.

That was an issue for Joa Enriquez, who was taking inventory of damage to her South Lois Avenue home on Wednesday.

She ticked off several items – an expensive rug and furniture – that would likely put her over her contents coverage. "If I exceed that, I'm hosed. I pay out of my pocket," she said.

The flood insurance program also doesn't cover relocation expenses such as hotels, moving crews or help with cleaning up.

But the Air Force reservist realized she's better off than many of those who opted out of flood insurance coverage.

"I'm military," she said. "We prepare."

Copyright © 2015 the Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Fla.), Jerome R. Stockfisch. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.