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Lifesaving tips for hurricane season

Each hurricane season brings with it the possibility that the next one will be more devastating than the last. But should a hurricane come tearing through your region, there are steps that you can take before, during and after that can minimize damage.

  • Evaluate your home insurance coverage.

    Hurricane damage is usually covered under standard home insurance policies (except in states where you need windstorm insurance), but you should always evaluate your coverage to make sure your home and belongings are insured for the amount it will cost to replace them. If your home is destroyed, and you can't live there, you will be covered for additional living expenses.

    hurricane damage
  • Document home furnishings and belongings.

    Create a video record of your home and belongings and update every few years so that you will have a record of items in case they are washed away in a flood or destroyed in a tornado.

  • Check out windstorm coverage.

    If you live in a coastal area, you might need a separate windstorm policy that protects against wind damage and wind-blown water damage, with a separate deductible.

  • Do you need flood insurance?

    If you live in an area that could be affected by a hurricane's storm surge, make sure you have flood insurance. Damage done by floods is not covered by homeowners policies. Rather, you must purchase separate flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

  • Plan a meeting place.

    Make sure that everyone in your family knows where to meet — a relative's house, for example — to prevent family members from becoming separated.

  • Take a first aid class.

    Not only is this an excellent idea in general, but also this will prepare you to deal with any bumps or bruises you encounter as a result of being battered by the storm.

  • Pick an emergency contact.

    Develop an emergency-communication plan in case family members are separated from one another. Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to serve as the "family contact." Make sure everyone in the family knows how to reach the contact person.

  • Prepare your trees.

    You can ready your trees for the storm by removing dead and diseased limbs.

  • Be ready to evacuate.

    When an order comes to evacuate your area, be ready for it — have your car gassed up and your disaster kit ready to go.

  • No storm surge? Be ready anyway.

    If you're in an area that won't be affected by rising waters, make sure you and your family get to your home's lowest floor or an interior room in order to protect yourself from high winds.

During a hurricane watch

  • Stay aware.

    Listen to a battery-operated radio or television for hurricane reports. Take some time to review your evacuation plan.

  • Be ready for the worst.

    Check your emergency supplies, charge up your cell phone, gas up your cars, turn your refrigerator and freezer to the coldest setting and open them only when necessary. Store drinking water in clean bathtubs, jugs and bottles.

  • Batten down the hatches!

    Purchase plywood and store it securely at the beginning of hurricane season as a precaution. Lock and board up windows and stow away small objects that could cause damage in high winds.  It is important also to anchor down objects that you can't bring inside, remove outside antennas, and, if you're going to ride the storm out elsewhere, turn the utilities off to reduce the potential for property damage. And this is no time to be standoffish — don't hesitate to help your neighbors get ready, especially the elderly and physically disabled.

During a hurricane warning

  • General steps.

    Listen to your battery-operated radio or television for official instructions. Because the power could go out at any moment, avoid elevators so you don't get stuck inside. If you're in a mobile home, check tie-downs and evacuate immediately.

  • At home.

    Stay inside, away from windows, skylights and glass doors. Secure windows and shutters (you might even board them up). Keep your supply of flashlights and extra batteries handy. Avoid using open flames (such as candles and kerosene lamps) as a source of light. If you lose power, turn off your major appliances to reduce the damage from a power "surge" when electricity is restored. And don't forget Fido! Even if your dog or cat is an "outside pet," be sure to bring them inside, too, where they'll be much safer.

  • Hitting the road to evacuate.

    If you've been ordered to evacuate, leave as soon as possible. But, before you leave, take a moment to secure your home by unplugging appliances and turning off electricity and the main water valve. As you are evacuating, take steps to avoid flooded roads and watch out for washed-out bridges. Make sure you tell someone — a friend or relative not in the storm-affected area — where you are going. And don't forget to take your emergency supplies, warm protective clothing, and blankets and sleeping bags.

After the storm passes

  • Continue to stay aware.

    Stay tuned to your local radio station. Listen for information on the location of shelters, disaster-relief stations, and insurance company claims offices.

  • Stay out of the way!

    Drive only if absolutely necessary and avoid flooded roads and washed-out bridges. Likewise, only use the phone for emergency calls.

  • Going home again.

    Return home only after authorities advise that it is safe to do so. When you do arrive home, be on the lookout for loose or dangling power lines and report them immediately to the authorities. Additionally, you might not be the only one in your home: Beware of snakes, insects or animals driven inside by floodwater.

  • Contact your insurance company.

    If you have suffered damage to your home or car, contact your insurance company as soon as possible. After a disaster, insurance companies and their adjusters are swamped with claims, and getting yours in sooner should result getting your claim check sooner.

  • Make temporary repairs.

    Make any repairs that will temporarily keep the damage from getting worse, such as covering a hole in your roof or boarding up a broken window. Keep the receipts for these repairs so that you can be reimbursed by your insurance company. Don't start making permanent repairs until an adjuster has assessed your damage.

  • Take inventory of damaged possessions.

    Carefully make a list of all possessions damaged by the hurricane. Photographing or videotaping the damage might help speed the claims process along, too.

  • Don't be taken for a ride.

    Beware of unscrupulous contractors who appear at your door, offering to quickly make repairs for cash.

Sources: Insurance Information Institute, The Weather Channel, the American Red Cross and the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of New York

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