Millions of people throughout Florida are currently attempting to piece their lives together in the aftermath of the Hurricane Irma. Throughout the state residents have been left sweltering in the heat without power, assessing the damage left behind due to flooding, and dealing with the overwhelming feelings that have occurred during the nearly-two week barrage of destruction from one of the strongest storms in recorded history that have left at least 12 people dead.
More than 6.5 million people were ordered to evacuate areas by Governor Rick Scott and hundreds of thousands of residents sought refuge from the storm at 500 statewide shelters. Those that elected to stay have been met with gasoline shortages, empty store shelves, and damage that ranges from complete devastation to heavy damage to their homes. Although the true extent of damage across the state has yet to be determined, some estimates have put the recovery costs at upwards of $100 billion dollars and will take weeks, months, and in some cases years to rebuild.
What To Do After A Hurricane
According to the National Weather Service, the primary hazards from tropical cyclones (which include tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes) are storm surge flooding, inland flooding from heavy rains, destructive winds, tornadoes, and high surf and rip currents. Hurricanes themselves are so damaging because they combine two of nature’s most powerful forces: water and wind. The destruction wreaked by these two entities can be catastrophic as well as costly, so it’s important to know what steps to take as you begin to rebuild.
Check Your Insurance Policy
Gather all of the information relevant to your insurance, such as policy numbers. The scope of your coverage will determine how much of your property damage may be covered when you file a claim. It’s important to remember that some damage from hurricanes may be covered by your main policy, while others may not. Damage from a falling tree is covered by a standard insurance policy, but in the state of Florida hurricane and flooding damage can be trickier to navigate.
Hurricane damage is usually defined as heavy rain being blown through windows or broken windows, satellite dishes, or other debris damage from high-intensity hurricane winds. Flood damage, unfortunately, is often not covered, as it’s often a separate policy. You’ll need to check your insurance documents to make certain.
Contact Your Insurance Company
Even if rebuilding will not occur for several weeks, homeowners should contact their flood and home insurance companies immediately. Some insurance companies work on a first-come, first-serve basis; meaning it is in your best interest to file your claim as-soon-as-possible. It is important to get a copy of your claim number and write it down, as it is the quickest and easiest way for insurance companies to locate your file, according to the Consumer Federation of America (CFA). If your home or car has experienced damage you should also notify your mortgage company or auto loan lender.
Start A Diary
In a notebook or in a digital document record the contact information of the people you interact with from your insurance company. Make sure to include names, dates, the reason for contacting them, and any pertinent information (such as claim numbers or adjustment information) that they share with you during your conversation.
Sign Up For Text Alerts
Many insurance companies are now utilizing SMS/Texts alerts to notify individuals on the status of their claim. By receiving up-to-date notifications on when you have filed a claim when an estimate is available, and when your payment has been processed you can focus your attention on other issues at hand.
Photograph and Document Damage
The insurance claims process can go a lot easier if you are able to provide photos or video that document the extent of the damage to your property. When possible, keep a list of all damaged personal items. Include the date purchased and approximate value of any damaged items and gather receipts for these items as well. If you haven’t already compiled a home inventory now is the time to do so. Contact your insurance agent if you have any questions about which items are covered by your policy.
Conduct Emergency Repairs
It’s important not to contract permanent repairs until after your insurance adjuster reviews the damage, however you should do what is necessary to prevent further damage to your property after the storm. For instance, securing broken windows or covering a leaking roof with a tarp would be considered emergency repairs, but make sure to retain all receipts related to such endeavors.
Do Not Accept Your Insurer’s First Offer
If you find that for any reason your claim is denied or you feel the offer is too low, demand that the insurance company identify the language in your homeowners’ policy that served as the basis for denying your claim or offering so little. Remember, everything is negotiable and you do not have to take your adjuster’s word on how the language or your policy should be interpreted, what damage is covered, what contractors you must use, etc. Claimants are entitled to request a second opinion, or request mediation of your claim or an appraisal under the policy, depending on the language found in your specific insurance policy.
You are going to be your strongest advocate during this time of rebuilding of both your property and your life. It is important to stay on top of your claim. Some insurance companies do not move quickly, and with the sheer number of individuals who will be filing claims in the state of Florida, insurance companies can themselves become overwhelmed.
Assistance Programs To Help You Recover
This week President Trump issued a major disaster declaration for the following Florida areas: Broward, Charlotte, Clay, Collier, Duval, Flagler, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Putnam, Sarasota and St. Johns counties.
- Granting immediate foreclosure relief – HUD granted a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures and forbearance on foreclosures of Federal Housing Administration (FHA)-insured home mortgages. There are approximately 280,000 FHA-insured Florida homeowners living in these impacted counties.
- Making mortgage insurance available – HUD’s Section 203(h) program provides FHA insurance to disaster victims who have lost their homes and are facing the daunting task of rebuilding or buying another home. Borrowers from participating FHA-approved lenders are eligible for 100 percent financing, including closing costs;
- Making insurance available for both mortgages and home rehabilitation – HUD’s Section 203(k) loan program enables those who have lost their homes to finance the purchase or refinance of a house along with its repair through a single mortgage. It also allows homeowners who have damaged houses to finance the rehabilitation of their existing single-family home;
- Information on housing providers and HUD programs – The Department will share information with FEMA and the State on housing providers that may have available units in the impacted counties. This includes Public Housing Agencies and Multi-Family owners. The Department will also connect FEMA and the State to subject matter experts to provide information on HUD programs and providers.
- Assisting the State of Florida and local governments in re-allocating existing federal resources toward disaster relief – HUD’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME programs give the State and communities the flexibility to redirect millions of dollars in annual formula funding to address critical needs, including housing and services for disaster victims. HUD is currently contacting State and local officials to explore streamlining the Department’s CDBG and HOME programs in order to expedite the repair and replacement of damaged housing; and,
- Offering Section 108 loan guarantee assistance – HUD will offer state and local governments federally guaranteed loans for housing rehabilitation, economic development, and repair of public infrastructure.
- Residents and business owners who sustained losses in the designated counties can begin applying for assistance by registering online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (local time) seven days a week until further notice.
- The Florida Division of Consumer Services is currently offering consumers direct access to insurance experts who can answer the many insurance-related questions that will follow in the wake of the storm as well as information and resources. You may reach them by calling 1-877-693-5236, Monday – Friday, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm, EST.
- You may also contact your local Red Cross chapter to find out what assistance may be available in your area.
- For those individuals or families with pets, RedRover Responders has compiled a listed of services available to Hurricane Irma victims.
You Will Recover From Hurricane Irma
As the flooding recedes and the power returns, Floridians should bear in mind that they will recover from Hurricane Irma. Beware of fly-by-night contractors or those who show up at your house unannounced offering their services. If you find yourself uncertain of the qualifications of a company or contractor that has solicited your business during the rebuilding process check with the Better Business Bureau for more information.
Remember to stay courteous when speaking with your insurance representative on the phone, no matter how difficult the situation has become. Compel them to your side to work for your best interests. With the proper preparation and following the steps highlighted above, things will get back to normal for you soon.