Hurricane Ian has devastated your home – here are the important first steps for disaster relief and insurance claims

The full financial and human cost of Hurricane Ian’s devastation is still unknown days after it struck Florida and now South Carolina has recovered from its wrath.

But even if the immediate search and rescue missions are still taking place, experts say there are already steps people can take to begin their long journey to financial recovery.

Until Saturday morning Ian’s remains were in North Carolina after it landed near Georgetown, South Carolina on Friday afternoon. Back in Florida More than 1 million people remain without electricity As of Saturday, entire areas of the state’s Gulf Coast are reeling and the death toll is rising, according to the Associated Press. At least 30 people have been confirmed dead, including 27 in Florida. said the AP.

Hurricane Ian will be “probably among the worst in the nation’s history,” President Joe Biden said Friday. “Rebuilding will take months, years.”

According to an initial estimate, insured losses could be between 25 and 40 billion US dollars Fitch ratings. The price could go up depending on the damage Ian does to the Carolina, the ratings agency noted.

Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the country’s costliest hurricane, caused $65 billion in insured losses at the time Insurance Information Institute. That’s $89.6 billion in 2021, said the research organization, which is made up of companies in the insurance industry.

The second costliest storm — at least for now — is Hurricane Ida. The Hurricane plowed through southeastern Louisiana last year and led to an insured loss of $36 billion, according to data from the Insurance Information Institute.

But the insurance costs for the bigger picture might mean very little for the many families who have leveled their homes, completely soaked their cars and turned their lives completely upside down. It is a matter of mustering every last penny to start the slow recovery process – all the more important when everyday life is already so expensive in times of hot inflation.

Because of this, it’s important to understand insurance coverage and the claims process that lies ahead.

Wind damage is covered by standard insurance policies for homeowners, renters, and businesses, the Insurance Information Institute said. A renter’s policy would cover their possessions, while a landlord’s policy would cover the structure, it noted.

Flood insurance is a different policy, and private passenger vehicles that have been flooded by water or damaged by wind are covered by the “optional comprehensive” portions of auto insurance, the Insurance Information Institute noted. There is 1.6 million Florida residents with flood insurance, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Determining where wind damage stops and flood damage begins is a recurring challenge that will soon resurface, said Clay Morrison, president of the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters.

Wind damage coverage can be included in homeowners’ policies, but sometimes that’s not the case, he noted. People can hire public investigators to help them gather paperwork and evidence for an insurance claim.

“The claims settlement issues from this event will continue for a number of years,” said Morrison, president of public appraisal firm Morrison & Morrison, which has headquarters near Houston, Texas, and another office in Florida’s panhandle.

Whatever happens next, here’s advice on what to do now

Start with photos, videos and documentation. It’s critical to re-record the full extent of the damage, Morrison said. This can be done with pictures and videos of anything, including pictures showing how high the water reaches, as well as photos or videos showing the surrounding damage near someone’s property. This will help insurers get a full picture of the intensity of the storm at a given location.

Keep original copies of photos, documents and receipts while giving copies to insurance company clerks and employees, Morrison advised. When explaining the extent of the damage to insurance adjusters, make as much reference as possible to the damage and potential damage.

Also, keep a diary of the dates and time you’ve spent on insurance coverage and write down your comments about the damage when a company’s adjusters or employees are inspecting the damage, he said.

“If you have difficulties later, you want to tell the carrier the period, you have documents and data from the beginning of the claim,” he said. “A diary must be kept of everything that has happened so far in the event of a claim.”

Don’t throw away any wrecked or damaged items until the insurance company assessor has inspected them, Morrison said. If there are plans to throw away items afterwards, check with the appraiser and the company first, he added.

FEMA advises flood insurance policyholders to report the damage to their carrier as soon as possible — and ask for upfront payments. If people need help finding their carrier, according to FEMA, they can call 877-336-2627. Floodsmart.gov is also a resource for explaining how to get started with a claim, FEMA noted.

Another place to start the recovery process is: DisasterAssistance.gov or 800-621-3362, as appropriate to FEMA.

Do your best at damage control. When there are leaks in homes or other damage that repeatedly exposes insured property to the elements, people “need to take reasonable steps to prevent further damage,” Morrison said. That could be tarps or temporary closure methods, he said.

That doesn’t mean ignoring the authorities and getting to a home that’s still in a dangerous area, and it doesn’t mean trying dangerous home fixes.

“Reasonable” is the operative word, Morrison said. “One must make a good faith effort to at least prevent further harm.”

What to expect from people hiring outside help. Many families simply work directly with their insurance companies to file a claim, get a check, and get on with their lives. But sometimes the task can be too difficult, complicated and exhausting.

“Typically, public adjusters come into the process when an insured has suffered a loss and is overwhelmed,” Morrison said.

If anyone looks outside, Morrison helps, Morrison said should look for people with years of experience and remember that a general rate is around 10% of the claim amount.

States set rates, and those fees can vary up and down, but 10% is about the usual price point, he said. For example, in Florida, under the statute, state adjusters can charge a maximum of 20% of the damage Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters.

For low-income households and vulnerable communities, the challenges can be even greater. Wealthier families may have the rainy-day money and resources to work out next steps with insurance claims and government documents, not all of them do, said Sarah Saadian, senior vice president of public policy and field organizing at the National Low Income Housing Coalition .

This is true for low-income families, but also for some seniors and people with disabilities. “What’s happening is that survivors with the greatest need face the greatest challenges when it comes to getting the resources they need to rebuild,” Saadian said, adding that they’re likely to face unstable conditions in the aftermath accommodation might face.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition leads the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition, which is made up of about 850 local, state, and national organizations that have learned how to help vulnerable populations after natural disasters.

A critical point to remember is the opportunity for free legal assistance in the bureaucracy surrounding government disaster relief, she said. For example, in cases where FEMA refuses financial assistance, the reasons for the refusal may not be clearly stated—but attorneys who have dealt with the disaster recovery process know from experience what additional information and documentation FEMA needs.
(The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

Florida has a number of legal aid organizations and pro bono projects, according to the Florida Bar Foundation. Here’s another page the National Disaster Legal Aid Resource Center, where people can start looking for legal advice.

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/hurricane-ian-devastated-your-home-heres-the-important-first-steps-for-disaster-relief-and-insurance-claims-11664631642?rss=1&siteid=rss Hurricane Ian has devastated your home – here are the important first steps for disaster relief and insurance claims

Brian Lowry

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