Guide to post-hurricane safety and relief

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An estimated 41 million Americans live in an area with heightened flood risk, according to a study from Environmental Research Letters. If your house floods during a hurricane, you’ll have to worry about the safety and security of your family members, pets and neighbors. Having adequate flood insurance can help you have one less thing to worry about during hurricane season by giving you financial peace of mind regarding lost and damaged items.

Contrary to popular belief, flood insurance is not included under most traditional homeowners insurance policies. Doing your research and choosing a flood insurance policy prior to a storm can help your family finance losses due to flooding and help keep your lives on track.

Key takeaways
  • It helps to begin the claims filing process as soon as you can after hurricanes or tropical storms.
  • A claims adjuster may come to your home to assess the damage. You may want to write down what they tell you to inform the rebuilding process.
  • If you don’t have enough insurance to cover damages, you may want to look into additional resources and assistance programs offered by the government or non-profits.

Contact your insurance company

Hurricanes and tropical storms can leave a wake of destruction in their path, including downed power lines, fallen trees, excessive debris and flipped vehicles. As such, your primary concern should be your safety. As soon as you and your family are in a safe place, contact your homeowners insurance company to begin the claims process. It may take a while to get through, especially if the storm was spread over a large region, so be patient.

Adjusters may come to your neighborhood in the days following a storm, assessing the damage and offering you detailed information on what is covered and what isn’t. When you can, write down what they tell you. You’re likely to be stressed after a hurricane and this is vital information vital to remember as you rebuild.

After a major storm, insurers will devote all their resources to determining claims and cutting checks so that homeowners can begin the work of rebuilding or repairing. You’ll learn a lot about your company at this time. Customer service, the ease of filing a claim and the speed with which you’re given a check all let you know whether you’ve chosen a good company to insure your home.

Options if you don’t have enough insurance coverage

Your insurance company may not be the only resource you have available to you after a hurricane. Look for government programs and non-profit organizations designed to help people who have faced a catastrophic loss. Let’s take a look at some of the most prominent.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

If your region is declared a federal disaster zone, FEMA officials will be on the ground quickly. There are multiple FEMA programs that can make the days following a storm safer, providing shelter and emergency care, crisis counseling, case management and unemployment assistance.

FEMA programs include:

  • Disaster Unemployment Assistance: This program provides survivors of a disaster with unemployment benefits for around six months after the emergency. The program is only available to those who cannot qualify for regular state unemployment insurance.
  • Mass Care and Emergency Assistance: This program provides shelter, food, emergency supplies and support for persons with special needs and other individuals both immediately before and directly following an emergency.
  • Individuals and Households Program Assistance: This program helps families and individuals who lost their houses in a presidentially-declared disaster by providing funds for temporary housing, to replace or repair a family’s home and for other uninsured or underinsured needs, such as vehicles or child care.

Often, a temporary FEMA office, called a disaster recovery center (DRC), will be set up where you can go to access their services.

Disaster Assistance Improvement Program (DAIP)

Another initiative of the federal government, the Disaster Assistance Improvement Program (DAIP), was created in 2006 to improve survivor access to disaster information and make applying for disaster assistance easier.

The organization’s website includes a handy Find Assistance page that allows you to input information on your disaster and get a customized listing of resources and assistance available to you from 17 federal agencies (including FEMA).

Small Business Administration (SBA) Disaster Assistance

If you are a business owner, either working from home or in another location impacted by the storm, the SBA can help. The organization offers low-interest disaster loans that can help you meet business expenses while you’re recovering.

There are four types of loans available for disasters:

  • Physical damage loans
  • Mitigation assistance to cover operating expenses
  • Economic injury disaster loans
  • Military reservist loans if a business owner is called for active duty.

The SBA website also features a wealth of information on how to prepare for a disaster. If you’re a business owner, you can and should take steps to be prepared before you’re in a disaster situation.

Internal Revenue Service Assistance

You might not think of the IRS as a resource that could help following hurricanes or tropical storms, but the agency offers special tax provisions for individuals and businesses to help them recover financially after a named disaster. The IRS may be willing to extend the time you have to pay your taxes and has tax assistance available at local IRS offices and FEMA DRCs.

Many disaster loans and grants from federal agencies require you to have filed your taxes correctly. The agency will give you a free transcript of your previously filed tax returns when needed after a disaster by filing Form 4506 and clearly indicating that it is a disaster-related request.

American Red Cross

Although the Red Cross doesn’t have financial resources that you can tap into, it has a wealth of other disaster recovery materials and aid that can make a big difference to you after a hurricane.

The organization’s website has an emergency resource library to help you prepare for any eventuality, and information on checking your home’s structural stability and utility services, and much more. If you need immediate help, you can contact your local Red Cross to find out about the availability of shelters and meals.

Ways to stay safe after a hurricane

In the immediate aftermath of a devastating storm, there may be many dangers lurking in your home and the area around it. Stay alert and use common sense and consider these tips for guarding against injury.

Follow orders

It can be gut-wrenching to have to leave your home before a storm, but if there’s an evacuation order for your neighborhood, you should act on it as soon as possible. Pack a few light essentials for your family members and bring your pets along if you’re able.

If you live in a hurricane-prone area, consider holding practice drills for your family, especially during hurricane season. You may want to make a list of what you would want to gather in the few minutes you’ll have to get ready to leave. After the storm, don’t return to your home until you’ve received word that it’s safe to do so, as there could be live wires and unstable conditions surrounding your home.

Be cautious when entering your home

You may be itching to get up higher levels in your home to see if the items you stored there survived the storm, but you can’t be sure that the stairs haven’t been compromised by flood waters.

It’s important not to step foot in your home until authorities have deemed it safe, and even then, tread cautiously the first time you explore the damage. There may be structural instabilities that you can’t see and could harm you.

Be careful around water

Standing water can hide many dangers. If it’s anywhere near electrical wires, steer clear to avoid getting electrocuted, even if the wires don’t appear to be in the water. A puddle can hide broken glass or other sharp objects, too, as well as disease — especially after it’s been stagnating for several days.

As far as drinking water goes, even if your own home is fine, your municipal water source may have been compromised, so it’s best to rely on bottled water in the days after a disaster.

Be aware of potential gas leaks

If you are evacuating your home before a storm, turn off your gas as a precaution against leaks. If you return afterwards and smell gas, call your gas authority immediately and stay far away from the source of the leak.

Gas leaks can be toxic and they can lead to fires and explosions, causing further damage to your already compromised home.

Be careful with clean up

Your first instinct after you return to your home following a storm may be to get to work cleaning up the debris. If you do so, do so with caution. It helps to wear heavy gloves, long pants and sturdy shoes. If you can locate a pair of goggles, it’s not a bad idea to put them on to protect your eyes from debris.

You will probably be dealing with hazards like broken glass, sharp objects and splintered wood. Ensure you move slowly through debris fields to avoid falling or risking injury to yourself.

Be careful with generators

Generators can be a life saver after a disaster, but use them cautiously. Your generator should be installed outside your home, away from any windows, vents or doors. Why? Generators are sources of carbon monoxide, which can be lethal. If you have a generator, have carbon monoxide detectors located strategically throughout your house.

The possibility of a hurricane striking can be nerve-wracking, especially if you live in a hurricane-prone area or in a flood zone. However, the steps outlined in this guide can help you survive a storm and thrive afterwards.

Flood insurance can help give you financial peace of mind following a storm, but if you find yourself uninsured or underinsured, you could turn to community groups, nonprofits and government programs to help you.

Written by
Mary Van Keuren
Insurance Contributor
Mary Van Keuren has written for insurance domains such as Bankrate.com, Coverage.com and Thesimpledollar.com for the past five years, specializing in home and auto insurance. She has also written extensively for consumer websites including reviews.com and myslumberyard.com. Prior to that, she worked as a writer in academia for several decades.
Edited by
Insurance Editor