St. Louis Did Not Flood, Some Insurance Companies Say

Some Ellendale residents are being told that a "sewer backup incident" is not covered by flood insurance

click to enlarge A car in the Ellendale neighborhood partially submerged by what some insurance companies say was not a flood.
Courtesy Matthew Sisul
A car in the Ellendale neighborhood partially submerged by what some insurance companies say was not a flood.

In south city’s Ellendale neighborhood, almost all the homes on Hermitage Avenue are condemned, leaving residents displaced. Hermitage backs up to the River Des Peres and amid late July's unprecedented rainfall, the houses on the street were some of the worst-hit in an area that saw widespread damage.

Residents at the time told the RFT water inundated their homes, geysers sprouted from manholes in the street and one man had to wade through neck-deep sewage with his kids on his shoulders to get them to safety.

Tom, whose property abuts the River Des Peres and asked that his last name not be used, says that as water started coming up through his basement sewer drain, he turned around to see water spraying in through the crack of his basement door. "It tore the whole door right off the frame," he says.
All of this sounds like a flood by any reasonable definition of the word.

However, some flood insurance companies disagree.

Matthew Sisul is the president of the Ellendale neighborhood association.

"Many of them have flood insurance," Sisul says of his neighbors. "But flood insurance adjusters denied their coverage."

According to Sisul, these adjusters are saying, "It was a sewer backup incident that the sewer utility is responsible for."

Ellendale resident Tom tells the RFT he didn't have flood insurance to begin with, but he knows neighbors who did and are having their claims denied.

Sisul stresses that he doesn't know exactly how many residents are facing these denials from flood insurers, but "more than one person being told that is irritating."

And he's talked to more than one person this has happened to.

Sean Hadley, the manager of public affairs for the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, says that just because water was coming into a person's home via a basement sewer drain, that doesn't necessarily mean a sewer backup occurred.

"Assume that you live next door to me and water enters your house, say, through your window well. Then it goes into your basement drain, now you're ultimately flooding me out," Hadley says. "One house is all it takes."

Hadley says this is how "overland flooding," which flood insurance should cover, can appear as if it is a sewer backup.

Hadley says that MSD is sending out $2,900 checks to individuals who experienced a water backup.

Sisul says that many residents have losses exceeding $2,900.
In those cases, homeowners rely on some combination of flood insurance and FEMA to make up the difference.

But for flood insurance to be available, the insurance company has to acknowledge a flood occurred.

"I've heard stories where insurance adjusters came out and said, 'No, this is not covered under flood. This is not a flood event,'" Sisul says. "And then MSD says, ‘Well, you're in a high-risk area, you need to have flood insurance and if your flood insurance won't cover it and you need a better carrier.’ And that's not a really good answer for people whose houses just got condemned."

"Both ends are fighting the middle, which is us," Tom says.

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About The Author

Ryan Krull

Ryan Krull is a staff writer for the Riverfront Times. Find him on Twitter @ryanwkrull
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