As Hurricane Idalia makes its way across the southeast, Florida residents who have had to evacuate may be wondering: When can I come back home? And how do I begin to assess damage?
If you live in and/or had to evacuate from an area that saw a direct hit from the Category 3 storm, surveying your damaged property, cleaning up and assessing what needs to be filed on an insurance claim can get overwhelming quickly.
Here are some tips to help you more easily navigate any damage done to your home or property during the storm, while staying safe.
How do you stay safe when returning home after a hurricane?
It can take hours for floodwaters from a major hurricane to recede. If you’ve evacuated because of the storm, you should only return home when officials say it’s safe.
NOAA’s weather radio has the latest updates on the status of the storm, which has weakened to a category 1 hurricane after battering Florida’s Big Bend area Wednesday morning.
Here is a step-by-step to-do list from FEMA’s website on how to safely survey the damages caused to your home and property after a major storm like Idalia:
Outside of your home:
- Before entering your home, look around outside for damaged power lines, gas lines, foundation cracks and other exterior damage. It might be too dangerous to enter until an inspector checks it out for you.
- Turn the main electrical power and water systems off until you or a professional can ensure that they are safe. Do not, under any circumstances, turn the power on or off or use an electrical tool or appliance while standing in water.
- Smell for gas leaks. If you smell natural gas or propane, or hear a hissing noise, leave immediately and contact the fire department.
- Check the ceiling and floor for signs of sagging. Water could be trapped in the ceiling and the floors might be unsafe to walk on.
- Look out for rodents, snakes, insects and other animals that might be on your property or in your home.
Once you’re inside:
- If your home was flooded or had high humidity due to the disaster, assume there is mold growth. Exposure to mold may increase health risks for survivors with asthma, allergies or other breathing conditions.
- Open doors and windows. If your house was closed for more than 48 hours, let the house air out before staying inside for any length of time.
- Wear protective clothing, including rubber gloves and rubber boots.
What you should throw away:
- Throw out items that absorb water and cannot be cleaned or disinfected (mattresses, carpeting, cosmetics, stuffed animals and baby toys).
- Remove all drywall and insulation that has been affected by flood waters.
- Be careful when moving furnishings or debris. They may be waterlogged and heavier.
- Throw out all food, beverages and medicine exposed to flood waters and mud (even canned goods and containers with food or liquid that have been sealed shut).
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How do you document hurricane damage?
Before you start cleaning up, though, you should document all of the damages as-is.
AARP recommends walking through your house – if you’ve already ensured it is safe to, using the FEMA’s checklist – and recording a video walk-through of what every room looks like before you start cleaning up.
Taking as many photos and videos as you can of the damage is important for providing thorough evidence to your insurance provider.
“Even photograph the insides of closets, cabinets and drawers. Don’t throw anything to the curb without photographing it first — if you do, it will be difficult to provide your insurance company with a complete damage inventory,” Farmers Insurance’s Head of Claims Customer Relations Jim Taylor told AARP.
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How long do you have to file an insurance claim after a hurricane in Florida?
According to this Florida statute, which went into effect last year, you have only one year to file an insurance claim for hurricane damage.
This means one year from the date the storm made landfall, meaning if you’re filing an insurance claim for damages from Hurricane Idalia, you have until August 30, 2024 to file a claim.
When should I call my insurance provider to report hurricane damages?
You should file your claim as soon as you can. You don’t want to give your insurance provider a chance to blame your damages on something happening in the time since the hurricane.
“Once you get back to your property and you see what the extent of the damage is, that’s the best time to notify your insurance company, and you would want to do that as soon as practicable,” Taylor told AARP.
How can I properly throw away damaged items like furniture and electronics?
There isn’t really anything you can do to salvage upholstered furniture, electronics or appliances that have been damaged by water.
When you’re throwing your damaged items out on the curb, remember to group them appropriately — separating furniture and appliances from organic matter like tree limbs or spoiled food — so they can be picked up according to your city’s proper waste disposal guidelines.
Lianna Norman covers trending news in Palm Beach County for The Palm Beach Post. You can reach her at email@example.com. You can follow her reporting on social media @LiannaNorman on X.
Alice J. Roden started working for Trending Insurance News at the end of 2021. Alice grew up in Salt Lake City, UT. A writer with a vast insurance industry background Alice has help with several of the biggest insurance companies. Before joining Trending Insurance News, Alice briefly worked as a freelance journalist for several radio stations. She covers home, renters and other property insurance stories.