After the blustering winds dwindled and the rain torrents turned into trickles, your first reaction was likely a sigh of relief that the hurricane had passed. Hopefully, you were well-prepared for the storm, but remember that life won’t return to normal right away and that there are steps you need to take in the aftermath of the storm.
First, be certain that the storm has completely dissipated, as hurricanes sometimes circle back. And you will need to take safety precautions as you begin to assess your property, attempt to prevent further damage, document your property’s condition, and begin the claims process with your insurance company.
One of your first steps should be to let your family and friends know you are safe, particularly if the power is out and phone service is down. If you have a smartphone that has access to the internet, you can use the American Red Cross’ Safe and Well site to post messages or use Facebook to mark yourself “safe.”
Staying Safe at Home
Whether you weathered the storm at home or are returning now that the storm has passed, there are some precautions you can take to help ensure you and your family stay safe.
If your power is out, turn off most of your light switches and unplug your appliances and electronics, including your television, computer, and printer. Leave one or two light switches on so that you’ll know when the power is restored. In the meantime, use flashlights, not candles, to avoid starting a fire.
Check your refrigerated food for spoilage. Typically, you should discard raw meat, eggs and dairy products after six hours without power. If you don’t know how long the power has been out or if you have any doubt about the freshness of a food item, it’s best to throw it out. Transfer any medications that need to be chilled, such as insulin, to a cooler filled with ice or frozen water bottles.
Avoid drinking your tap water or preparing food or beverages with it until you know that the water supply is safe and not contaminated. If you must use the tap water, boil it for at least one minute to make it safe for consumption, advises the Centers for Disease Control.
And don’t forget to take special care of your pets. They were probably shaken by the storm and may still be scared. Keep them close to you as much as possible.
Staying Safe Outside
If you were evacuated, you’re probably eager to rush home to check on the condition of your property. If you were sheltering in place, you’re probably itching to get outside. Either way, don’t give into the temptation until you’ve checked your local news, weather channels and emergency broadcasts to be certain it’s safe. Sometimes wind, rain, and flooding continue after the storm has passed.
Even after you’ve been given the all-clear and it appears safe enough to head outside, you need to take safety precautions. Whether you’re on foot or in your car, keep your eyes out for:
Flood Waters. Even just six inches of moving water can knock you down, and 12 inches can float your vehicle. In addition, water can obscure debris or a dangerous sink hole. And if the water has been charged by fallen or underground power lines, you could be electrocuted.
Debris. If you’re walking, be vigilant to avoid tripping over debris or being hit by a weakened branch that suddenly snaps off. If you’re driving, remember that broken branches, felled trees and other objects that have been blown around during the storm can damage your car or cause an accident.
Downed Power Lines. If you see any dangling power lines or downed electrical poles, report them to your local power company and keep your distance.
Damaged Roads. Try to avoid roads and bridges that could have been weakened by the storm. News alerts and emergency broadcasts may not be up-to-date on every closed or dangerous road. If at all possible, avoid driving altogether, recommends the American Red Cross.
If it’s safe to go outside, start checking your property for damage. Your most immediate need is to prevent further damage from occurring. If, for example, the roof is leaking, cover it with a tarp or other sturdy material to minimize damage to the interior of your home and your possessions. Or, if tree branches were weakened during the storm, call someone to have them removed before they fall. Note that if you don’t take steps to prevent further damage, your insurance may not cover that damage.
After you’ve seen to any areas that need immediate attention, carefully inspect your home—inside and out—and take photos of anything that’s been damaged. This includes your vehicle(s), personal possessions (e.g., clothing, furniture, outdoor grill, patio furniture), and landscaping.
Your inspection should also reveal areas that you need to clean up, such as gutters and downspouts that are clogged with storm debris. Take photos before you clean up just in case you find related water damage later. Although you should address any issues that could lead to further damage, don’t start repairs until after you‘ve discussed the claim and repair process with your insurance company.
Filing an Insurance Claim
As soon as you’ve inspected your home and documented the issues you uncovered, contact your home insurance company to provide details about the incident and the damage.
Your insurance company will need you to explain what happened to your home (e.g., a tree fell on it during the hurricane), describe the damage to your property (e.g., there’s a hole in my roof), and provide a phone number where they can reach you throughout the claim process. If you can’t stay in your home because of the damage, find out whether your insurance will cover any of the costs to stay elsewhere.
If you’re insured by The Hartford, you can call 1-800-243-5860 or visit the online claims center to file a claim. One of our claims professionals will contact you within one business day to assess your needs, answer your questions and provide service options. Our goal is to get you back to normal as quickly as possible.
Take steps to stay safe after the storm, document your home’s condition, and contact your insurer as soon as possible to start undoing the damage from the hurricane.