The worst has happened and your area has been hit by a hurricane and has suffered significant damage. What’s on the to do list in the aftermath of a hurricane?
First thing is to stay informed and listen to official communications. If electricity is still up and running, many governments give updates via social media and email. Contacting friends and family will also be possible, but avoid using the phone — landline or cell — since volume will already be high and emergency calls need to take precedence.
If the power is down, then a battery operated emergency radio will allow you to listen to local and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR) updates.
If you’ve evacuated your home, do not try to return to it until local authorities have given the all clear for your area. Heavy debris moving in water, unseen hazards underneath standing water, agitated wild animals, and downed power lines all pose life-threatening risks in the aftermath of a hurricane.
In addition, rescue crews may be operating in areas between where you evacuated to and where your home is. Their job is hard enough and the more people in their way, the harder it is.
When evacuated, keep your receipts. Many insurance policies will reimburse you for emergency evacuations.
Most deaths in hurricanes are caused by water, not wind. Never drive into water more than a few inches deep. The road you think is still under the water may not be.
Just six inches of moving water can sweep you off your feet. Only a foot of rapidly moving water can move a vehicle. Water might be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines. Dangerous debris could be hidden. DON’T GO INTO DEEP WATER!
Use the same kind of caution when entering structures that have been flooded. Structural elements may have shifted and floors could collapse or ceilings cave in. And wild animals may have decided to ride out the storm in your vacant home.
If the power is out and it’s safe, turn off your home’s main electrical breaker. This will prevent short circuits or surge damage when the power comes back on.
Using matches or any open flame before you’re sure gas or propane lines weren’t damaged is a huge risk (and is another reason to make sure you have flashlights when preparing for a hurricane).
If you have to use municipal water before authorities have verified it’s free of contaminants, boil it and try to only drink bottled water.
Check the food in the refrigerator. If the power was out for an extended period and if you’re in doubt, then dispose of it. If you have a generator, make sure you follow all safety protocols and only run it outdoors away from windows.
If you rode out the storm in your home — or after you return — immediately photograph the damage thoroughly. This will make your insurance claim easier. Also create an inventory of damaged or lost property.
Then take steps to keep things from getting worse, like tarping damaged roofs or windows to prevent further water damage (which your insurance may not cover if it happens after the main storm).
Contact your insurance agent as soon as possible. They often work on a first-come, first-served basis in the aftermath of major events. Don’t start making permanent repairs to your property until you’ve met with your insurance adjuster, since repairs may not be covered without prior approval.
When planning repairs, take note of what parts of your structures and property took the most damage and make plans for strengthening these weaknesses. Eventually, there’ll be another hurricane.