Guide to post-hurricane safety and relief

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

1

At Bankrate we strive to help you make smarter financial decisions. While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here’s an explanation for

You never thought it could happen to you: a hurricane has struck your region and you are now faced with a damaged or destroyed home and all that entails. Although no one likes to think about this, it’s a good idea to plan ahead, especially if you live in a coastal area prone to severe storms.

The damage of a hurricane may ricochet through your life and extend far beyond home damage: you may not be able to work, use the transportation you are used to or find food and shelter following the storm. If a hurricane hits, take these steps to help you get life back to normal quickly.

Contact your insurance company

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.

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, 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 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 a hurricane, 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 will have free 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, and 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 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, don’t ignore it. Pack a few light essentials for your family members, and don’t leave your pets behind.

If you live in a hurricane-prone area, consider holding practice drills for your family and making 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 — there could be live wires and unstable conditions surrounding your home.

Be cautious when entering your home

You may be itching to get up to the second floor master to see if the items you stored there survived the storm, but are you sure the stairs haven’t been compromised by flood waters?

Don’t 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 that could hurt 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, too — 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 is to get to work cleaning up the debris. Do so only with caution. Wear heavy gloves, long pants, and sturdy shoes. If you can locate a pair of goggles, it’s not a bad idea to wear them.

You will probably be dealing with hazards like broken glass, sharp objects and splintered wood. The last thing you need during a time like this is an injury that requires medical attention. Move slowly through debris fields to avoid falling and risking a sprain, too.

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 bottom line

Surviving a hurricane may be one of the hardest things you’ve ever had to do. But don’t despair: in the immediate aftermath, there are organizations that want to help you, including your own insurance company.

There are steps you can take both before and after a storm that may save your life, from avoiding possibly dangerous water sources to keeping a sharp eye on your generator. If you’re smart and use common sense, you should be able to get back on your feet, make any necessary repairs and get back to your regular life as soon as possible.