• Long Beach Breeze

Now’s the time to prepare insurance coverage for storm season

By Toni Miles


State Farm insurance agent and business owner Elvis Gates, Jr. not only works in Long Beach, but has lived here with his family for decades. Having weathered Hurricane Katrina, he knows first-hand how destructive these storms can be and how critical it is to prepare and protect one’s family, belongings, property and business before a storm strikes.


Insurance agent Elvis Gates, Jr., at his Long Beach office.
Insurance agent Elvis Gates, Jr., at his Long Beach office.

Gates, a native South Mississippian, has worked in the insurance industry with State Farm since 1985, for thirty-six years total. He opened his State Farm Long Beach insurance agency in 2001, four years before Katrina wreaked havoc in the region. He says a lot of lessons were learned during the “Storm of the Century,” especially in the hardest-hit areas in South Mississippi, which includes Long Beach.


“As a new agent, I was able to really meet a lot of my customers, to meet and go over their coverages with them, so a lot of our customers were prepared for what went on during Hurricane Katrina,” Gates said. “Having been on the insurance adjuster’s side of it, I had worked a lot of catastrophe claims. That experience helped me to formulate what I needed to discuss with my customers when I moved to the agency side. I could tell them how to be prepared for these things, because they happen where we live. We are exposed to hurricanes, and everybody’s exposed to the possibility of a flood.”


Gates says about forty percent of all flood claims handled by the National Flood Insurance Program occur in areas that are not in high-risk or mortgage required flood zones.


“An example of that with Katrina here in Long Beach would be 4th Street and Magnolia Street. A lot of those homes in the area, during Katrina, were not in what FEMA had mapped as a high-risk flood zone, which meant people didn’t have to buy flood insurance for a federally-backed loan on a house,” Gates said. “A lot of people back then said, well, our house didn’t flood here during Camille...That’s the worst there could ever be, so we don’t have to get it [flood insurance]. Well, that cost a lot of people.”


Fast-forward to present day: Gates says people rely on using Katrina as a standard as to whether or not they decide to get flood insurance, hoping history will not repeat itself. This is something Gates warns against. While Hurricane Katrina packed a powerful punch, it was only a Category 3 hurricane when it made landfall here, as opposed to a more catastrophic Category 5.


Repairs still continue at the Long Beach Harbor after storms from the past hurricane season
Repairs still continue at the Long Beach Harbor after storms from the past hurricane season

“Just because it was as bad as it was, doesn’t mean it can’t get worse,” Gates said. “We live in an area that’s on the Gulf of Mexico. It is one of the higher risk areas, because the Gulf of Mexico shelf, as shallow as it is, means that we are more prone to disastrous events from hurricanes.”


“Down here when people ask, ‘Do I need flood insurance?’ Our reply is, ‘Well, does your address have anything to do with water?’ Long Beach. Waveland. Bay St. Louis. Ocean Springs, Biloxi, as in Biloxi Bay - there’s just about no place on the Coast that doesn’t have an address to do with water; so, the answer to that question is always yes.”


And this isn’t the only factor to consider. Long Beach Alderman-at-Large Donald Frazer says while the number of people living in Long Beach took a hit after Katrina, the area’s population is coming back strong, and, with that, more development.


“We are just shy of 17,000 residents, according to the last census. We are still shy of pre-Katrina numbers, but we are steadily growing,” Frazer said. “So, we’re seeing these growing pains because of the growing.”


“When people say, ‘My house has never flooded like this; what’s wrong with the City?’ It’s not necessarily what’s wrong. It’s just the growing pains. You had three empty lots to your east or west, and now they have houses – where, in the past, that water had a place and time to drain, it no longer has green space to; and that’s why we’re making sure to do upgrades to our drainage and different basins,” Frazer said.


While the City of Long Beach has several projects going on citywide to help ease flood threats and to strengthen the City’s infrastructure, both Frazer and Gates agree now is the time to get things in place before hurricane season officially starts on June 1.





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