As Irma departed the Sunshine State to blow its way through the southeast, Floridians began the process of cleaning up and rebuilding. Many remain overwhelmed, unsure where and how to start the recovery process.
According to FEMA, twenty-five percent of homes in the Florida Keys are simply gone, washed and blown away by the storm. Millions throughout the state are left without power. Fresh water is in short supply in many areas. Florida growers may lose up to thirty percent of some crops.
Where to Begin
Florida homeowners are resilient. We have been through this before, and it is certain that another storm will strike the Sunshine State in the future
For now, the task is to rebuild. As we look at the devastation in our towns and cities, it is natural to be overwhelmed and to wonder where to begin.
Depending on the impacts and damage to your home, recovery may take weeks, months or even years. The key is to take a deep breath and begin now, taking one step at a time.
Health and Safety First
Wherever you are as you begin the recovery process, look around and count heads. Is everyone there or accounted for?
In the aftermath of any disaster, the priority is to establish the whereabouts of every family member. After that, follow these health and safety guidelines:
- Seek medical attention where necessary and don’t put it off because of long lines or packed emergency rooms. Disease and infection are common after a devastating event like Irma.
- Don’t enter unsafe structures. When in doubt – stay out.
- Report downed power lines and Do Not Touch them.
- If you smell natural gas or propane, leave the area and report it.
- Drink plenty of clean, safe water.
- Make sure every family member, old and young, is properly nourished.
- See to the health needs of the very young, the elderly, and infirm and have an ample supply of necessary medications, special dietary requirements, and hygiene items like baby diapers and sanitary wipes.
While Cleaning Up
- Take rest breaks and avoid exhaustion and the natural tendency to overdo as you try to put things back in shape quickly.
- Wear gloves while working with debris.
- Work in teams with at least one other person.
- Wash hands after touching debris that may be contaminated by sewage, chemicals, or other waste.
- Use caution around wild animals that may have been injured by the storm or that are hungry.
- Stay alert to poisonous reptiles and insects hidden in debris.
File Your Insurance Claim and Begin the Rebuilding Process
While you address the basics of clean-up and safety, take steps to file a claim with your insurance carrier.
- Secure your property to prevent further damage or theft and keep receipts.
- Contact your insurance company and find out the steps they require for filing a claim and verify your coverage, deductibles, and exclusions. Confirm what they will pay before signing contractors to rebuild.
- Make a list of lost, damaged or destroyed possessions
- Have licensed contractors provide written estimates of necessary repairs.
- Meet with the claims adjuster and provide all documentation regarding repairs and lost possessions.
- Be patient and work with the insurance company during this period. They will be working overtime with many claimants.
According to figures reported by TrustedChoice.com, insurance companies paid out more than $2.5 billion in claims in 2016. That number is likely to climb significantly higher in 2017 with the impacts of Hurricane Irma.
Sadly, some homeowners may have shortchanged themselves. Those who opted for limits on the cost to rebuild or replace their home to save on insurance premiums may find that they are left holding the tab for a large chunk of the rebuilding costs.
Historically, home values and the costs to rebuild homes rise over time. Saving a few dollars up front when weighed against the potential loss in a disaster is rarely a good trade off.
Adequately insured homeowners will find the road to recovery much smoother. Those who have not, should consider this a wake-up call, take a hard look at their insurance coverage and be prepared to weather the next storm.