Teddy McLaughlin stands outside the home he rents in Mexico, which was flooded during the Dec. 18 rainstorm. His furniture that was destroyed in the flood sits in piles on the front lawn. McLaughlin is in the process of moving into a new apartment. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Teddy McLaughlin knew he’d never be able to carry his two large dogs through the waist-deep, freezing water that had jumped the banks of the Swift and Androscoggin rivers and flooded Mexico’s Dix Avenue. 

So McLaughlin sat in the home he’d been renting for a year – one he soon hoped to buy – and watched the water rise, seeping up from the overflowing basement and pouring through the vents as he waited for the fire department to rescue him and his dogs, Beau and Bear.

Although he got out safely, many of his belongings were ruined by the catastrophic Dec. 18 storm, and all his money has gone into cleaning the place and keeping the generator and propane heaters running. 

McLaughlin, 27, had never given much thought to renter’s insurance, let alone flood insurance. His landlord doesn’t seem to have flood insurance either, so he doesn’t know how they’ll replace the missing front porch, appliances and hot water heater or prevent mold from growing.

He doesn’t plan to stick around to find out. 

“I thought I finally had the place, somewhere I was going to put my roots down, maybe start a family, and then bam,” he said. “Now (the landlord) couldn’t pay me $100 to take the place.”


McLaughlin’s situation is not unique. Maine has a startlingly low rate of flood insurance – less than 1% by some estimates. Nationally, the rate is about 4%, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Experts say that as climate change progresses, there are likely to be more extreme weather events like last month’s that left McLaughlin and thousands of other Mainers stranded. A medium-sized snowstorm this weekend, which is expected to be followed by heavy rain midweek, could increase flooding risks in some areas.

Yet even as flooding has become a bigger concern across the state, officials say the number of people purchasing flood insurance has fallen in the last decade.

Some people assume, incorrectly, they can’t get coverage unless they live in a flood-hazard area, but flood insurance is available to any property owner or renter located in a community participating in the National Flood Insurance Program. In Maine, all but 22 communities participate.

Many homeowners and renters also mistakenly believe they’re covered by regular home insurance, but most policies won’t cover water damage. Homeowners can buy an endorsement to their regular home insurance that covers backup of water from sump pumps and sewage, but not floodwater coming in from doors, windows or foundations. Some companies have an exclusion where if the power goes out and the sump pump won’t work, that’s still not covered. 

Teddy McLaughlin stands Tuesday in what was his bedroom at his rented home Mexico, which was flooded by the December rainstorm. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Many owners say an extra policy is too expensive. Often, they think they’ll never need it.

“It’s a very hard sell to sell flood insurance to the general public,” said Diane Champoux, president of Champoux Insurance in Lewiston. “You really never think you’re going to have flooding unless you’re right on the river or in an area that is considered high risk. It seems that Mainers feel this is not going to happen to them.”


But FEMA estimates that about 25% of all claims come from areas not deemed high risk. Experts warn that as the planet warms, the frequency and ferocity of storms will only increase – and that could be bad news for Maine.

The National Climate Assessment’s Interactive Atlas Explorer projects steep increases in extreme rain for parts of Maine in dire warming scenarios. In one scenario, Aroostook County would see an 83% jump in extreme rain days, the biggest of any U.S. county. The federally run National Flood Insurance Program covers about 12% to 14% of annual flood damages in the U.S., leaving millions at financial risk.

Extreme precipitation events and subsequent flooding can cause a variety of costly problems, including property damage, lost tourism days, sewer overflows that contaminate drinking water and private wells, and shellfish bed closures. In its 2020 report “The Cost of Doing Nothing,” the Maine Climate Council estimated climate-related flooding from overflowing rivers and streams could cause up to $2.4 billion in total building losses and wipe out another $2.6 billion a year in jobs.

Maine has about 7,240 policies under the National Flood Insurance Program. But that number has been decreasing for years, according to Sue Baker, state coordinator for the Maine Floodplain Management Program, even as extreme weather has become more common.

The trend has insurance professionals like Champoux concerned.

“It’s definitely a coverage that is going to be more and more necessary because … other than fire, water damage is probably the most expensive repair to make to a structure. It has to be done correctly or you’re going to have mold issues,” Champoux said. “(Homeowners) are going to have to be willing to pay those extra dollars.”


On average, a policy in Maine costs about $1,306 per year, according to FEMA data, and that’s on top of a traditional home insurance policy.

For some, that number could soon rise.

FEMA recently redid its risk rating system so that each person’s policy is based on the individual structure, rather than the more static approach used since the 1970s, which did not include as many flooding variables. The changed model means that while some people will see their rates decrease, others, particularly those who had subsidized rates because their homes were built before the introduction of flood hazard mapping in the 1970s, will see an increase. Those older homes were often not built with flood protection in mind. The new system has phased out the subsidized premiums. FEMA estimates that about two-thirds of policies are not at the full risk rate.

Muck left from the floodwaters lingers in Teddy McLaughlin’s bedroom in Mexico. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

In Maine, which has a long coastline and the oldest housing stock in the country, FEMA predicts that the average premium will increase incrementally each year until it reaches an average of $2,700. Rates cannot increase more than 18% per year.

This could be an unwelcome surprise for many, especially new home buyers. Additionally, Maine is among 16 states that don’t require flood hazard disclosure.

“If someone is buying a property, no one is bound to tell them that the building is in a flood hazard area. It’s up to the buyer to do their homework,” Baker said. “The reality is that many people don’t do their due diligence to find this out in advance of closing on a property. If that’s the case, then they often don’t find out until they go to a lender for financing.”


There is a bill in the state Legislature that would require flood hazard disclosure, but its fate is uncertain.

Even for people who do have flood insurance, there are still risks. 

To trigger coverage, water must cover at least two acres of land that is normally dry or has to damage at least two properties, including yours, in the immediate area. So, if your house sits lower than your neighbors’, leaving you flooded while they’re bone dry, you’re out of luck. 

“There’s a gap there between flood insurance and your property insurance where even if you have water, there would be no available insurance coverage to buy,” Champoux said. “Water is a tough peril to insure against.”

Casey Hynes decided against flood insurance when he opened Cushnoc Brewing in Augusta seven years ago. The beer and pizza establishment is mere steps from the Kennebec River, but Hynes, co-owner and general manager, said it never would have made economic sense.

“It’s a total rip-off,” Hynes said. “It’s expensive, there’s a high deductible, there’s a lot that isn’t covered and after a flooding event like this, the premiums would go up. 


“It’s not something we plan to do, even after this disaster,” he added. 

Hynes watched as the river he looked at every day turned into what he described as an “inland ocean” in a matter of hours. The brewery’s downstairs event space was flooded with about 8 feet of water and is in “utter ruin.” 

While the cleanup and renovation process will be expensive – Hynes said it will likely have “five zeros” – the demolition process is underway and he hopes to have the space back up and running within the next few weeks. 

A view of the Androscoggin River from Teddy McLaughlin’s backyard in Mexico on Tuesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The state already has sought relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which had members arrive in Maine this week to assess the storm damage. It’s the first formal step toward requesting a Major Disaster Declaration from the federal government, which would open a host of additional funds and resources. Any FEMA money will likely go toward infrastructure repairs, although some businesses could benefit.

Homeowners, on the other hand, would not.

Dick and Shirley Pike, of Naples, managed to escape last month’s flood unscathed. Their only casualty of the storm was a crushed snowblower, which Dick Pike said was good news because now he can replace it. The Pikes don’t have flood insurance, but the fifth-wheel camper they call home sits on slightly higher ground, so while the water was “nipping” at their door, nothing seeped in. Their road, on the other hand, is another story.

The Pikes hope some of the federal money will go toward repairs to Crooked Way.

“It took a beating,” Dick Pike said.

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