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  • Cheryl S. Grant

The One Thing Natural Disaster Survivors Wish They’d Done Differently to Prepare

If you're in the path of a hurricane or another natural disaster, what's the one thing you should always do? We asked survivors: Here's what they said.

Know what flood insurance covers

“Don’t assume that your flood insurance covers everything,” says Paul Sprela, of the insurance group JIl Agency, in Long Beach, New York. In 2012, Sprela himself was affected by Hurricane Sandy.  Sprela, whose company specializes in selling flood insurance, had his business and his home flooded. “Make sure that you have insurance that covers the contents as well.” Flood insurance typically covers structural damage, yet the rising waters do extensive damage to furniture, books, and electronics. Sprela also advises his clients not to panic, because he rushed and paid out-of-pocket for the repairs on his home. “I should have waited for the government grants I was entitled to,” he says.

Take photos, keep receipts

In prepping for Hurricane Irma, Jane Bianchi, of Tampa, Florida, and her husband were diligent in photographing their belongings and using bags of mulch to stave off flooding. “We also played it safe and flew out,” she says. “We didn’t want to be stuck on the highway and run out of gas with a toddler.” However, Bianchi was worried about a tree near her pool. “I should have chopped it down before the storm and learned how to drain my pool the right way,” she says. Although she didn’t have a lot of damage, the tree did come down on the pool, forcing her to replace the drain. Make sure you don’t fall for these common scams in the wake of a natural disaster.

Evacuate sooner

When Harvey hit Texas in 2017, some areas flooded due to the heavy and relentless rain: In Cedar Bayou, Texas, alone, the storm dumped 52 inches. Yet some of the flooding could have been prevented: “Our subdivision only flooded because a bunch of pallets were not secured at the substation across from my house,” says James Matthew of Galveston, Texas. The pallets blocked the drainage system and triggered extensive flooding. “I would go out there next time and check the drains myself to make sure everything is clear and OK,” says Matthew.

Prepare for the worst

“I am such a Florida baby that I didn’t take the warnings for Matthew seriously at all,” says Angela Ward of Saint Augustine, Florida, who was hit by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017. “While others were buying survival supplies for Matthew, I was buying a new vacuum,” says Ward. But she changed her ways for Irma and was more diligent preparing once she heard that storm was heading her way. Even so, she didn’t feel as if she had prepared enough: “I plan on getting a generator next time,” she says. And keeping plenty of gas—and cash—on hand. Life-essential resources are usually the first to get affected during natural calamities. This is precisely why it’s crucial for all of us to try and help survivors after natural disasters.

Trouble can come from anywhere

Depending on where you live, you may have to evacuate or have the option of riding out the storm. No one told Katie Mehnert of Houston, Texas, to evacuate—but she wishes she had, and plans to the next time a hurricane threatens. She lost her home and car to Hurricane Harvey. “I didn’t live in a flood zone, and I thought that I was well prepared,” says Mehnert. But the nearby Addicks Reservoir used as a retention dam during the hurricane proved to be the problem: “We were flooded in the middle of the night, the water was rising fast so we had to go,” she says.

Anticipate where the damage might come from

In order to get refunds from your flood and content insurance carrier, you’re best off having pictures and receipts. “I plan on cataloging everything going forward,” says Thomas Cassino of Lindenhurst, New York. He lost his house in 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. “In the future, I will store all receipts, and I’ll video and/or take pictures of whatever is in my home before evacuating,” says Cassino. He was surprised at how much money he had spent over time furnishing and decorating his home. “It easy to lose track of all that you have spent,” he says.


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