Hurricane Sandy Aftermath: How to Get help, How to Help Others, How to Heal Our Communities

Hurricane Sandy smashed through the Caribbean and into the East Coast of the United States Oct. 28 through 30, killing several hundred people in its path and causing widespread destruction of homes, businesses and public facilities that is expected to total more than $50 billion.

Our neighbors in New Jersey and New York were particularly hard hit, especially along the coastline, as were residents in states stretching from North Carolina north to Maine.

Our hearts here at MyPhillyLawyer go out to every resident and their loved ones and family members in the area affected by the storm, including here in Pennsylvania and Delaware as well.

In the aftermath of this tragedy that is still early in its clean-up efforts, MyPhillyLawyer offers this guide to help people put their lives back together after the disaster.

A photo of a tree that toppled onto a house during a storm. Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/AwakenedEye

A photo of a tree that toppled onto a house during a storm. Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/AwakenedEye

Places to Start:

Homeowners, business owners and renters whose properties were damaged by the high winds, flooding and related issues from the hurricane can go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website, which includes a list of key tips to help victims return to their properties once the storm is gone.

Among the tips are:

*Don’t return to your flood-damaged home before the area is declared to be safe by local officials

*Keep a battery-powered radio with you so you can listen for emergency updates and news reports.

*Use a battery-powered flash light to inspect a damaged home. Note: The flashlight should be turned on outside before entering – the battery may produce a spark that could ignite leaking gas, if present.

*Watch out for animals, especially poisonous snakes. Use a stick to poke through debris.

*Stay off the streets. If you must go out, watch for fallen objects; downed electrical wires; and weakened walls, bridges, roads, and sidewalks.

*Before you enter your home, walk carefully around the outside and check for loose power lines, gas leaks, and structural damage. If you have any doubts about safety, have your residence inspected by a qualified building inspector or structural engineer before entering.

*Do not enter if you smell gas, or if floodwaters remain around the building.

*AppliancesIf they are wet, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. Then, unplug appliances and let them dry out. Have appliances checked by a professional before using them again. Also, have the electrical system checked by an electrician before turning the power back on.

If you need assistance, there are several agencies listed on the FEMA site where you can get help, including the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

FEMA also has a web page with information specific to Hurricane Sandy that victims can register online to get help, including shelter, food or clothing, wherever they are located.

Another excellent source of information for the victims of Hurricane Sandy is the United States government’s official Web portal, USA.gov, where a wide variety of helpful links and contacts are available.

Victims can register for assistance in counties that have declared emergencies in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, while there are also links for disaster assistance business loans through the Small Business Administration.

Links are also available on the site to help disaster victims cope with the disaster and find additional resources.

If your cellphone is working, you can download an app from The American Red Cross which allows users to monitor conditions in their area; find shelter; and let others know you are safe.

FEMA has its own similar app for finding open shelters and open FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers.

Residents can also call the American Red Cross at 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767) for help, or they can search for shelters via text message: text: SHELTER and your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA). For example: Shelter 01234 (standard rates apply).

To find friends and family members during the emergency, the following resources are available:

The Red Cross Safe and Well List, where people can register themselves as “safe and well” so that family and friends know that they are OK. You can use the database to search for missing loved ones.

There is also a Next of Kin National Registry emergency contact system where residents can register or search for others.

Tourists or foreign nationals can use the International Evacuees and Foreign Nationals registry to let loved ones know of their status.

A useful guide was published by The Wall Street Journal to help residents in the affected areas with almost anything they might be dealing with after Hurricane Sandy, from cars ruined by floodwaters to fallen trees that hit houses to instructions on how to safely use a generator.

Property owners who need some help with the process of filing insurance claims can consider this advice from the non-profit Insurance information institute.

“Standard homeowners policies cover wind damage caused by hurricanes, tornadoes and severe weather,” according to a statement from the III. “Homeowners insurance policies also provide coverage for additional living expenses that policyholders will need to finance temporary housing costs and other daily necessities. Damage and flooding to vehicles is covered under the comprehensive section of standard auto insurance policies, which is optional.”

To begin filing related claims, the III recommends:

  • Be prepared to give your agent or insurance company representative a description of the damage to your property. Your agent will report the loss immediately to your insurance company or to a qualified adjuster, who will contact you as soon as possible in order to arrange an inspection of the damage. Make sure you give your agent a telephone number where you can be reached.
  • If it is safe to access the area, take photographs of the damaged property. Visual documentation will help with the claims process and will assist the adjuster in the investigation.
  • Prepare a detailed inventory of all damaged or destroyed personal property. Make two copies—one for yourself and one for the adjuster. Your list should be as complete as possible, including a description of the items, dates of purchase or approximate age, cost at time of purchase and estimated replacement cost.
  • Collect canceled checks, invoices, receipts or other papers that will assist the adjuster in assessing the value of the destroyed property.
  • Make whatever temporary repairs you can without endangering yourself. Cover broken windows and damaged roofs and walls to prevent further destruction. Save the receipts for any supplies and materials you purchase, as your insurance company will reimburse you for reasonable expenses in making temporary repairs.
  • Secure a detailed estimate for permanent repairs to your home or business from a licensed contractor and give it to the adjuster. The estimate should contain the proposed repairs, repair costs and replacement prices.
  • If your home is severely damaged and you need to find other accommodations while repairs are being made, keep a record of all expenses, such as hotel and restaurant receipts.
  • If you purchased flood insurance offered by the National Flood Insurance Program, call your insurance agent or insurance company and provide them with your flood insurance policy number and a telephone number/email address.

If you wish to make donations to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy, the Huffington Post offers some smart tips to ensure that your money gets to victims safely:

*Give to an established charity and seek out the charity’s official web site on your own. Don’t use links in email appeals that you may receive. They could be scams that direct you to malicious web sites.

*Send donations of money, not donations of used or new supplies or goods. Actual supplies are harder to transport, distribute and store in disaster areas, while cash donations make it easier for the social service agencies to provide the things that victims need the most.

*Feel free to designate to the charity that you want the money to go to the victims of Hurricane Sandy.

*Donations of blood are also urgently needed right now because Hurricane Sandy caused the cancellation of hundreds of Red Cross blood drives, resulting in a shortage of blood and platelets.

Established charities include The American Red Cross, The Salvation Army and The United Way.

Of course, once the recovery process continues for victims, they will receive insurance checks for the damage they have suffered and will have to find and hire contractors to make repairs.

To make sure your repairs go smoothly, and to ensure that you avoid any hassles that could cause you to have to take a bad contractor to court in the future, you should contact construction trade organizations in your area to find out about the work records and reputations of the contractors you are considering. You can also learn about quality contractors through the licenses and inspections department in your municipality.

Be sure that the company or individual that you hire is going to get the needed permits and approvals from your local government so that the work is done properly and meets local codes and requirements. You can also do online research to review contractors in your area by doing Web searches, checking for their records on pay sites such as AngiesList.com or looking for complaints or concerns on your local Better Business Bureau Web site.

All professional contractors have license numbers that can be checked with various agencies to be sure there are no complaints or actions against them. In Pennsylvania, they can be reviewed at the Home Improvement Consumer Information Web site under the office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney General.

And don’t forget word-of-mouth referrals – simply talking to friends, relatives and neighbors can often give you leads on reliable and caring contractors who have done great work for people that you know.

There are some other key things to ask contractors during the interview process:

*Ask to see their proof of insurance documentation so you can be sure that their work is insured.

You want to ask to see their insurance certificate and proof of liability coverage and worker’s compensation coverage for the workers who will work at your house. That insurance coverage protects you if a worker is hurt while doing work on your property.

*Ask if the contractor plans to bring in any sub-contractors to help get the job done. If so, be sure to ask to see the insurance coverage information and other documentation from the sub-contractors, too, if their work won’t be covered under the main contractor’s coverage.

*Ask to see documentation to ensure that the contractors are properly and fully bonded so you are covered if a worker would damage or steal something on your property.

*Be sure that the contract clearly includes the total price of the job, including a breakdown of the individual work that will be done. That means an item by item list and accounting of everything that will be done and that will be replaced, from drywall to wall studs to everything else.

*Make sure that you do NOT pay the entire contract price up front. That gives you leverage to ensure that the finished work is to the standards that you expect and which were promised by the contractors. Instead, make sure that the contract specifies that the homeowner has the right of final approval before the last payment is made. Also make sure that the contract includes the right for you to demand a “punch list” to handle any remaining problems or items to be completed under the contract. That way, if anything else needs to be done, the contractor will come back and do it without additional fees.

One other bit of important advice you might not think about – be sure to visit your property regularly while the work is being done if you are not living in the home during the repairs.

There is so much that the disaster victims and their families are going through right now. The stresses are huge and the recovery will likely seem agonizingly slow.

In the meantime, if there is anything we can do here at MyPhillyLawyer to help your family once again be whole, please feel free to contact us at 215-227-2727 or toll-free at 1-866-920-0352 anytime. Whether it is a problem with a building contractor who might be ripping you off, or an insurance company that’s not properly handling or making good on your claims, give us a call if you need an experienced, qualified and compassionate team of attorneys to fight for you. If you need us, MyPhillyLawyer stands ready to assist you and will be there for you and your family every step of the way as we manage your case through the legal system.

When Winning Matters Most, Call MyPhillyLawyer.