Last week, tornado outbreaks were a regular staple of nightly newscasts. Twisters caused damage, injuries and even a few fatalities in places such as Oklahoma, Kentucky and Colorado.
The storms were a reminder that when spring and summer arrive in the United States, tornadoes are never far behind.
The annual number of tornadoes has ebbed and flowed since 1954, as this chart from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association shows. Through April of this year, the U.S. was on pace to have an “average” year for tornado outbreaks, according to the NOAA.
But the overall number of tornadoes matters little when a storm is bearing down on your town. Just one tornado is more than enough to wreck your home and send your financial life into chaos.
Hopefully, you never will face such potential devastation. But it always is wise to be prepared. Following are three things you must do in the aftermath of tornadoes and other severe summer storms:
1. Protect your property if it has been damaged
The first thing you should do after a tornado is to make sure your loved ones are safe. Seek medical attention for the injured. If everyone is OK, move on to securing your damaged home.
Your home insurance policy will pay for damages related to tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. We’ll talk more about that in a moment. But in the immediate aftermath of a storm, it is important to put safety first.
The Insurance Information Institute says that if you smell leaking gas, you should open windows and shut off the main valve. Keep all lights and appliances off until the gas has dissipated. Turn off power altogether if wires are shorting.
Once things are safe, turn to inventory and repairs. For starters, make a detailed list of all your losses and take pictures. Do not throw out any damaged property until after an insurance adjuster visits your home.
You also need to make sure the home is safe from additional losses. The institute suggests the following:
Make temporary repairs to prevent further loss from rain, wind or looting. These costs are reimbursable under most policies so keep the receipts.
2. Contact your insurer as soon as possible
As soon as you can — perhaps after checking on the condition of loved ones and making sure the house is safe and secure — contact your insurance company.
The institute says damage from tornadoes may be covered by three types of policies:
- A standard homeowners policy
- A business insurance policy
- Your auto insurance policy, in instances when your car is damaged
Call your agent or an insurance company representative and explain what has happened. You will be asked to describe the extent of the damage. Some storms are so violent that you may have to relocate temporarily. Make sure your insurer has the contact information to reach you at the new location.
As mentioned before, keep all receipts related to damages and repairs. Also, keep any receipts related to the cost of temporarily relocating. Most homeowners policies reimburse such expenses, which may include:
- Hotel bills
- Restaurant meals
- Other expenses over and above customary living expenses
3. Choose your contractors carefully
A tornado causes more than enough damage when it blows into your home; don’t make the problem even worse by picking the wrong contractor.
Natural disasters often leave scam artists in their wake. These fraudsters are intent on separating you from your cash. A story we wrote on Superstorm Sandy a few years back offers good tips for avoiding being caught up in a post-disaster scam. In particular, the story suggests these tips for choosing a contractor:
Before hiring a contractor for repairs, be sure to do your homework and shop around for several estimates. Visit www.bbb.org for ratings on tens of thousands of contractors and repair professionals.
You can also reach out to your local Division of Consumer Affairs to find out if a contractor has any complaints against them.
Has a tornado damaged your home? If so, share your tips for recovering from such damages in our Forums. It’s a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.