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May 2, 2011

Make personal safety your first priority. Listen to the local radio for up-to-date information. Stay out of damaged buildings. If you’re in an evacuated area, don’t return to your home until local authorities report that it’s safe. When you survey your home, check first for damage to gas, electric or sewage systems. Don’t use damaged systems until they’ve been checked by professionals. If gas is leaking, turn it off at the main shut-off valve, leave the building immediately and call a professional for service. Watch out for broken glass and sharp objects. If you must drive, use caution. Look out for downed wires and debris, and remember bridges and roads may be damaged.

If you have tornado damage, report it to your insurance agent or insurance carrier as soon as possible. During this first call, you should be ready to provide at least a general description of your damage. A representative will talk you through your claim, recording the details. A claims professional will call you after you’ve reported your claim. In most instances the insurance carrier is able to make contact with you within 24- 48 hours. If you have serious damage, they will make every effort to get to you first. In catastrophic events such as hurricane Katrina, response times may be delayed, so remaining patient is crucial.

If a tornado has caused damage to your property, it is your responsibility to take action to avoid further damage, once it is safe to do so. Heavy rains often accompany tornados and wind storms. The longer your home is exposed to water, the more damage you’ll see to your roof, ceiling, walls and floors — as well as any personal belongings you have inside. If you can, cover holes in the roof or broken windows with heavy-duty tarps or plywood to prevent additional water damage.

Move wet items to drier ground. Wash and dry whatever you can. If you’re not sure it’s safe for you to do any of this the work, professionals can help. You’ll usually find them listed under “contractors” or “water damage restoration” in your phone directory. Make sure to save receipts from any temporary fixes as part of documenting your damage.

Check your policy to see what’s covered and the deductible you’ve chosen. Reviewing your policy will help you prepare questions for your claims professional. Your insurance policy typically covers the cost to repair common tornado damage — including damage to roofs and walls, cars and your inventory or belongings. However, your deductible does apply — and you also may have a higher deductible for wind/hail damage that applies to tornados. If your home is uninhabitable, your policy will likely pay additional living expenses, up to a stated amount, while damage is assessed and your home repaired or rebuilt. If, for some reason, your repairs take longer, you may be eligible for additional assistance from federal emergency programs.

As soon as you can, start making a list of items that were damaged by the tornado. A good, thorough list will help the insurance carrier process your claim faster. Document the damage with photos, video, bills and receipts. In the meantime, don’t throw out damaged items — especially expensive ones. Your claims professional will advise you about any specific information needed from you to process your claim so you can get started on permanent repairs.

Insurance carriers require you to wait until your claims professional has assessed your damage before you begin making permanent repairs. However, you are encouraged to schedule permanent repairs as soon as possible because contractors can be tough to schedule after a tornado strikes. Use a local, licensed, bonded and insured contractor, and check references.

If you have replacement cost coverage on you policy, the carrier will replace damaged items and materials with the same type and quality of materials. For example, if you have an asphalt shingle roof, the insurance carrier will pay to repair or replace damage with asphalt materials — but they will not pay to replace it with expensive slate tile.

If damage is extensive, people sometimes decide to take the opportunity to upgrade their property with better or more expensive materials. Again, the insurance carrier will only pay for replacing materials of the same type and quality. If you want to pay the additional expense to upgrade, you’re certainly welcome to do that out of your personal budget. Any time you make improvements to your property, talk to your agent to make sure you have enough insurance and to find out if you are eligible for discounts.

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