Terrebonne and Lafourche are among parishes seeing the biggest declines in the number of homeowners who have flood insurance, new figures show.

In Terrebonne, homeowners with flood insurance dropped by 17 percent in the past five years. It’s the seventh greatest percentage decline among Louisiana’s 64 parishes.

Lafourche’s flood insurance policies dropped by just over 10 percent, the 13th greatest decline.

The Associated Press analyzed the figures for all of the nation’s counties and parishes using National Flood Insurance Program data from 2012 through the most current available this year.

It found the policies declined in 43 of the 50 states, falling from almost 5.5 million to just under 5 million, a decrease of 10 percent.

Locally, where hurricanes pose a major threat six months of every year and even heavy rain can flood streets and homes, officials have long advised residents to have flood insurance.

“If you live in south Louisiana, you need flood insurance,” Terrebonne Emergency Prepareness Director Earl Eues said. “In August of last year, we had 33 inches of rain fall in Denham Springs. That could have easily been over Terrebonne Parish. If we would have had 33 inches of rain here, we would have had substantial flooding, even in areas that aren’t required to have flood insurance.”

The AP’s reporting found the declines coincided with a price increase Congress approved in 2012. In addition, FEMA released new elevation maps of some high-risk areas that showed a higher flood risk and caused insurance costs to rise. And banks became lax at enforcing a requirement that any home with a federally insured mortgage in a high-risk area be covered.

In Terrebonne, the average flood insurance policy costs $642 this year compared to $572 in 2012, the data says. About 34 percent of the parish’s roughly 45,000 homes are covered by flood insurance. Of an estimated 14,238 homes in flood hazard zones, the most flood-prone areas, 39 percent are covered.

Lafourche’s average premium in 2017 was $678, down from $717 in 2012. About 28.8 percent of Lafourche’s 40,000 homes are covered. And 37 percent of an estimated 16,740 homes in hazardous flood zones have coverage.

Questioned on Facebook, some locals said they can’t afford flood insurance.

“People don’t care about flood insurance because it’s so dang high,” said Billy Theriot of Houma. “On top of the high cost of insurance, they want you to pay the deductible before you can claim your money. It’s crazy.”

Peggy Lirette of Bourg said that last year, her policy rose from $450 per year to $3,400 per year. She said she’s afraid to see what will happen when it comes up for renewal again this year.

“I’ve lived there for 52 years,” Lirette said. “I’ve been paying this policy for 32 years. It’s not right that those of us who have paid so dearly for 32 years are simply being so mistreated, and there’s not a thing we can really do. Our hands are tied.”

A combined 70,738 homes valued at $13 billion are at risk of being flooded by hurricane storm surges in Terrebonne and Lafourche, CoreLogic, a global property research company, said in a recent report.

Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said he believes there’s another reason for falling flood insurance participation.

“There’s a requirement that federal bank regulators have for properties in flood-prone areas to be insured for floods as a condition of getting a federally backed mortgage,” Donelon said. “That’s great, but if you don’t have to have it, and the lender who can get the coverage for free tells you not to bother, that’s a disincentive to buy it.”

Another issue is that some residents believe they can depend on a federal bailout of uninsured homeowners after natural disasters, Donelon said.

“But the truth behind that,” Donelon said, “is that the bailout doesn’t come close to providing enough coverage. The typical flood insurance payout is about $80,000, and the typical FEMA disaster assistance for uninsured losses is about $10,000.

“What ends up happening for most of those uninsured losses is that people get loans at a below-market interest rate. That, in effect, sucks all the equity out of their homes. For a typical family, their biggest investment or asset is their home.”

Donelon said only about 24 percent of properties in the state are insured against floods. In the past two years, 56 parishes have been declared disaster areas at least once, 14 of them twice, as a result of flooding.

Statewide, homeowners had 361,000 flood policies before Hurricane Katrina in 2005; that swelled to 495,000 afterward, he said. Today, the number has dropped to 459,000.

Louisiana has benefited from the National Flood Insurance Program more than any other state. Since 1978, Louisiana policyholders have collected $19 billion for insured flood losses. The next three states are Texas, New York and New Jersey, which have each collected $6 billion.

“The best insurance that any property owner can buy anywhere in the state is the NFIP,” Donelon said. “Every property in the state should be insured for floods.”

-- Staff Writer Dan Copp can be reached at 857-2202 or at dan.copp@houmatoday.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanVCopp.