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

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

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By Andrew Keshner

Insured losses could be between 25 and 40 billion dollars according to a first estimate

The total financial and human cost of Hurricane Ian’s destruction is still unknown, days after it hit Florida and now with South Carolina fresh out of its wrath.

But even with the immediate search and rescue missions underway, experts say there are already steps people can take to begin their long road to financial recovery.

As of Saturday morning, Ian’s remains were in North Carolina after making landfall Friday afternoon near Georgetown, South Carolina. Back in Florida, more than a million people are still without power since Saturday, entire areas of the state’s Gulf Coast are in shock and the death toll is rising, according to the Associated Press. There were at least 30 people confirmed dead, including 27 in Florida, the AP said.

Hurricane Ian is “likely to rank among the worst in the nation’s history,” President Joe Biden said Friday. “It will take months, years to rebuild.

Insurance losses could range from $25 billion to $40 billion, according to an initial estimate by Fitch Ratings. The price could rise depending on the damage Ian inflicts in Carolina, the ratings firm noted.

Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the nation’s costliest hurricane, resulted in $65 billion in insured losses at the time, according to the Insurance Information Institute. That’s $89.6 billion in 2021 dollars, the research body made up of insurance companies said.

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

But overall insurance costs might mean very little to the many families who have seen their homes flattened, their cars completely waterlogged and their lives turned upside down. What will matter is getting every last penny to start the slow process of recovery – all the more critical as everyday life is already so expensive at a time of high inflation.

That’s why it’s important to understand the insurance coverage and claims process that awaits you.

Wind damage is covered under standard homeowners, renters and business insurance policies, the Insurance Information Institute said. A tenant’s policy would cover his possessions while a landlord’s policy would cover the structure, he noted.

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

Figuring out where wind damage stops and flood damage begins is a recurring challenge that’s about to reappear, said Clay Morrison, president of the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters.

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

“Claims issues around this event will last for a few years,” said Morrison, president of public adjuster Morrison & Morrison, which is headquartered near Houston, Texas, and has another office in Florida begging.

Whatever happens next, here are tips on what to do now

Start with photos, videos and documentation. It’s crucial to chronicle the full extent of the damage fresh, Morrison said. This can be done with photos and videos of anything, including images showing water height, as well as a photo or video showing surrounding damage near a person’s property. This will help insurers get a full picture of the storm intensity at a certain location.

Keep original copies of photos, documents and receipts while giving copies to adjusters and insurance company staff, Morrison advised. Be as thorough as possible in stating damages and potential damages when explaining the extent of damage to adjusters.

Also, keep a log of the dates and time spent corresponding to the insurance coverage and when adjusters or a company’s staff inspect the damage, write down their comments about the damage, he said.

“If along the way you have difficulty, you want to tell the carrier the time period, you have documents and dates from when the claim started,” he said. “A log of everything that has happened so far in the claim should be kept.”

Don’t dispose of destroyed or damaged items until the insurance company’s adjuster has inspected them, Morrison said. If there are plans to throw things away afterwards, check with the adjuster and the company first, he added.

FEMA advises flood insurance policyholders to report the loss to their carrier as soon as possible — and inquire about prepayments. If people need help finding their carrier, FEMA says they can call 877-336-2627. Floodsmart.gov is also a resource for explaining the initial steps of a claim, FEMA noted.

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

Do your best to limit the damage. If there are holes in homes or other damage that continues to expose insured property to the elements, people “must take reasonable steps to avoid further damage,” Morrison said. It could be tarps or temporary waterproofing methods, he said.

That doesn’t mean ignoring the authorities and going to a home that’s still in a dangerous area, nor does it mean attempting dangerous repairs.

“Reasonable” is the key word, Morrison said. “You must use good faith efforts to at least prevent further harm.”

What to expect for people hiring outside help. Many families simply work directly with their insurance companies to submit a claim, get a check, and start living their lives. But sometimes the task can be too heavy, complicated and exhausting.

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

If someone is looking for outside help, Morrison said they 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 above and below, but 10% is about the common price, he said. In Florida, for example, public adjusters can charge a maximum of 20% of the claim, according to the Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters.

For low-income households and at-risk communities, the challenges can be even greater. Wealthier families may have the money and resources to figure out next steps with insurance claims and government documents, not everyone does, said Sarah Saadian, senior vice president. public policy and grassroots organizing at the National Low Income Housing Coalition. .

This is true for low-income families, but also for some older people and people with disabilities. “What’s happening is that the survivors who need it the most are facing the biggest challenges getting the resources they need to rebuild,” Saadian said, adding that they could likely face a unstable accommodation thereafter.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition leads the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition, made up of approximately 850 local, state, and national organizations that have learned how to help at-risk populations in the aftermath of natural disasters.

A key takeaway is the possibility of free legal assistance in government disaster relief bureaucracy, she said. For example, in cases where FEMA denies financial assistance, the reasons for the denial may not be specific – but attorneys who have handled the disaster recovery process will have experience knowing what additional information and documentation FEMA has need. (The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

Florida has an array of legal aid organizations and pro bono projects, according to the Florida Bar Foundation. Here is another site, the National Disaster Legal Aid Resource Center, where people can start their search for legal assistance.

-Andrew Keshner

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswire

10-01-22 0940ET

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