Filing a flood insurance claim is a fairly straightforward process that starts with a call to your agent or insurance company.

However, home and business owners should make sure they have a few things handy to make the claims process go more smoothly: the name of the insurance company, the policy number and a telephone number and/or email address where you can be reached at all times, according to Jeff Albright, chief executive officer of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of Louisiana.

An insurance adjuster should be in touch within a few days of that first call, Albright said. If not, the policyholder should call the agent or company again.

The next step is documenting the damage. The insurance adjuster will need evidence of the damage to the home and possessions to make the repair estimate.

Separate the damaged and undamaged property. Take pictures of everything damaged, including the things that have to be thrown out, structural damage and the standing floodwater levels. Make a list of everything damaged or lost, the date of purchase, the value and any receipts. If possible, place the flooded items outside the home.

The LSU AgCenter recommends cleaning out the home and drying it as quickly as possible to prevent mold and wood rot. Flood water isn't clean — it may be contaminated with sewage or other pollutants — so it's best to disinfect, too.

The third step in filing a flood claim is completing the proof of loss, a sworn statement of the amount of damage being claimed and the supporting documentation for your official claim for damages. The proof of loss has to be filed with the insurance company with 60 days of the flood. 

The policyholder will receive their claim payment after they and the insurance company agree on the amount of damages, and the insurer has the complete, accurate and signed proof of loss. Processing the claim and getting a payment may take longer when major catastrophic flooding occurs because of the number of claims involved.

Flood insurance policies cover a maximum of $250,000 in structural damage to a home and $500,000 for a business. Contents coverage is limited to $100,000 for homeowners and $500,000 for businesses.

Water damage for vehicles typically falls under an auto policy's comprehensive insurance coverage, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. Policyholders should call their agents or insurance companies immediately to find out if the damages are covered.

Unfortunately, only a fraction of the area homes and businesses inundated by the recent flooding are covered by the National Flood Insurance Program, Albright said. The people who don't have flood insurance only have a few options available.

They can file for disaster assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, request low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration or go to a commercial bank and borrow money, he said.

"What I tell people is everyone needs flood insurance," Albright said. "Why would you insure your house against fire but not insure your house against flood when you live in a state like Louisiana?"

Louisiana Insurance Department spokeswoman Ileana Ledet said Louisiana is by far the largest recipient of National Flood Insurance Program payouts.

Since 1978, Louisiana flood insurance policyholders have been paid $16.9 billion, Ledet said. Texas is next at $6.5 billion.

In an Aug. 11 news release, Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon urged home and business owners to buy flood coverage, describing it as a property protection tool the same as plywood or a generator. 

"If you're not in a flood zone, flood insurance is really pretty cheap," Albright said. "If you're in a flood zone, it doesn't matter how much it costs you, you've got to have it because sooner or later you're going to flood."

Don Griffin, vice president of personal lines for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, said the cost is around $700 for homes outside the flood zone and around $2,500 inside the flood zone.

The premium depends on where the home or business sits in the flood zone, Griffin said. Everybody floods. It's just a matter of how often.

Follow Ted Griggs on Twitter, @tedgriggsbr.