Get ready now to pick up pieces after disaster strikes

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Every year hurricanes, tornados, violent thunderstorms, flooding and fires wreak havoc across the country. In 2006 alone, there were 33 major catastrophes affecting hundreds of communities across the U.S., which resulted in 2.3 million claims for losses totaling $9.2 billion, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Even if you don't live in tornado alley or in a flood plain, the Better Business Bureau recommends you take some basic preparedness steps to help you immediately following a catastrophe and offers advice for working with your insurance adjuster to ease the stress and anguish after disaster strikes.

Do your homework

- Create and maintain an inventory of your personal possessions. This includes taking pictures or creating a video, as well as keeping receipts for major items. The inventory should be saved in a safe place outside the home, such as in a safe deposit box at your bank.

- Make sure you carry your policy numbers and contact information for your insurance company with you at all times.

- Read your homeowners policy carefully so you'll know what is and isn't covered. And make sure you know when the deadline is on filing claims.

After disaster hits

- Contact your insurance adjuster immediately. Not only does this get the ball rolling on the claims process, but you might be eligible for loss-of-use benefits, which means you could be reimbursed for hotel costs, food, and other living expenses while your house is unlivable.

- Document the damage to your property and possessions thoroughly; take pictures or video if possible. Go from room to room and create a detailed account of your belongings.

- Make any minor repairs to limit further damage to the home. You may be liable for damage that occurs after a storm has passed, so make temporary repairs, such as boarding up broken windows or throwing a tarp over a leaky roof.

- Keep all your receipts spent on supplies and living expenses for future reimbursement.

- Do not make any permanent repairs until you get approval from your insurance company. Your insurer might not fully reimburse you for permanent repairs made without their authorization.

- If your house was destroyed by a major disaster, you may qualify for additional assistance when insurance doesn't cover all of your losses. Check with the Federal Emergency Management Agency at www.fema.gov for more information.

For more advice you can trust on protecting your home and loved ones before and after natural disasters and other catastrophes, go to www.bbb.org.

KELVIN COLLINS IS THE PRESIDENT AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF THE BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU OF CENTRAL GEORGIA & THE CSRA INC., WHICH SERVES 41 COUNTIES STRETCHING FROM AUGUSTA TO MACON. CONTACT THE AUGUSTA BUREAU OFFICE AT (706) 210-7676 OR WWW.CSRA.BBB.ORG.


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