What to do after a hurricane

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UPDATED: 2018-10-24T13:09:06.083Z
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Cleanup begins in Houston suburb Riverstone after Hurricane Harvey and heavy floods.

A hurricane can leave your home in anywhere from a state of slight disrepair to completely in shambles. According to a 2016 report from the Congressional Budget Office, 1.2 million Americans live in areas more likely to be at risk for “substantial damage” due to a hurricane, predicting that number to rise to about 10 million in 2075. Hurricanes can cause serious damage — Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria caused more than $250 billion in damage in 2017 — and you need to be protected in the case one hits the area you live in.

After a hurricane strikes, no matter how bad the damage is to your property, there are important steps to take to help you get back in your home and on your feet quickly.

Make sure you can safely return home

The first and most important step is making sure your neighborhood is safe to return to if you had to evacuate because of a hurricane. The local authorities in your community will tell you when your neighborhood is safe to come back to, or if certain roads or areas are still closed that would affect you returning home. Never drive through any water, and remain aware of your surroundings as you return to your property.

Once you arrive home, make sure you asses the damage from a safe distance and be very thorough. You should never enter a building that has been damaged by a hurricane until it is cleared to be safe by a professional. Some buildings can look fine from the outside, but have extensive internal damage. Additionally, watch out for fallen power lines, gas leaks and any electrical damage inside. When cleaning up your property after a hurricane, make sure to wear protective clothing and never wade in any flood water, as it could be polluted.

Make a claim with your insurance company if necessary

If your home is damaged by a hurricane, you should file a claim with your insurance company as soon as possible. A standard homeowners insurance policy won’t cover some damages caused by a hurricane, including weather-related flooding. If you live in an area prone to hurricanes, you should consider purchasing flood insurance or, in some cases, windstorm insurance. Your policy can take up to 30 days to be in effect, so don’t wait until you’re under hurricane watch to search for additional insurance. Insurance companies may also choose to not sell flood or windstorm insurance right before a predicted hurricane.

When making your claim, gather as much information about the losses as you can. Most likely, an insurance adjuster will inspect the damage and make an estimate on how much you will receive in claims. If you don’t feel like their estimate is an adequate amount for the repairs, don’t be afraid to hire a public adjuster for a second opinion.

You shouldn’t discard any damaged items until you’ve made sure you’ve shown the adjuster first. It’s a good idea to take photos of the damages and make lists of items lost — in fact, it’s best if you make a home inventory ahead of a storm to make this step easier. Make sure to save any receipts on any expenses you might have had if you were displaced temporarily because of a hurricane, as your homeowners insurance may cover the cost of you and your family having to temporarily find a new home, such as a hotel or other rental.

If you don’t have any insurance, or your insurance doesn’t cover all your damages, The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) may be able to provide assistance. They can help with all your damages, or just the ones your insurance doesn’t cover, if your application is accepted. You should apply for this assistance as soon as you possibly can after a hurricane.

Do your research to avoid scams

It’s common after a hurricane or any natural disaster for people to try to scam the victims. There are different types of ways these con artists may try to take advantage of you after a hurricane. Watch out for contractors asking for large amounts of money upfront for supplies with no written contract. Most reputable contractors won’t ask for much, if any, money before starting a project, and none would do any work without a signed contract. Always look up reviews on your contractor and confirm their license, and sign a contract to make sure you are protected.

Another common scam is fake robo-calls telling victims of a hurricane that their insurance premium is due and they must pay it over the phone now, and if they don’t, their homeowners, flood or windstorm insurance will be cancelled immediately. Always contact your insurance company or agent directly about any payments or claims.

Beginning the repairs on your home

Once you’ve established how you’re going to pay for the damages after a hurricane, it’s time to start the cleanup and rebuild process. Make sure to always have a trained professional with you when doing cleanup or building, wear protective clothing and eyewear and always work as a team to move heavy objects and debris. Work with your contractor to make your new home is as disaster-proof as possible, in the case of another hurricane or other natural disaster.

Hurricanes can leave you and your family displaced from your home and confused about the next steps to take. Of all the hurricanes that hit the U.S., 40 percent of them hit Florida, and Florida has the least happy homeowners policyholders based on Clearsurance data. Making sure you have the right coverage and are aware of what is and isn’t covered is important to any homeowner, especially if you need to purchase supplemental insurance policies, such as flood or windstorm insurance. Knowing you’re protected in the event a hurricane damages your home in any way is important and leaves you with a safety net in case of disaster.

The content on this site is offered only as a public service to the web community and does not constitute solicitation or provision of legal advice. This site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an insurance company or an attorney licensed or authorized to practice in your jurisdiction. You should always consult a suitably qualified attorney regarding any specific legal problem or matter. The comments and opinions expressed on this site are of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of the insurance company or any individual attorney.

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