LAFAYETTE — State Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon on Monday said that everyone in Louisiana should take advantage of the federal flood insurance program.

Donelon visited Lafayette to speak to an afternoon meeting of the Lafayette Parish Insurance Exchange, a group of people involved in the insurance industry.

He said that last year’s hurricanes Katrina and Rita showed that even if mortgage companies do not require flood insurance, homeowners, especially in south Louisiana, should have it.

Donelon said that property owners should also ensure they know which companies provide the coverage, because many people only know who their agents are.

After Katrina in 2005, he said, the state Insurance Department received many calls from property owners who had to evacuate and did not know what to do because their agents had been displaced, he said.

Donelon also said he is in the process of asking insurers to voluntarily extend the standard 1-year period policyholders have to dispute claims in court.

He said that the 1-year anniversaries of Katrina and Rita are coming up, and if the companies do not extend that time by a year, they will find themselves battling an onslaught of lawsuits from policyholders trying to force the issue.

Tim Osborne, program manager for NOAA’s National Ocean Service in Louisiana, also spoke at the meeting, saying that full-blown hurricanes are not the only cause for concern in Louisiana’s coastal areas.

He said south Louisiana is particularly vulnerable this year because so much recovery work remains to be done and so many thousands of people are still living in campers and trailers.

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