Homeowners Recovering From Distasters

Sep 15, 2015 | By Bill Robinson

Debris from destroyed homes and property is strewn across areas of St. Louis, Missouri after tornadoes hit the Saint Louis area on Friday, April 22, 2011. Photo credit: R. Gino Santa Maria/Shutterstock
Debris from destroyed homes and property is strewn across areas of St. Louis, Missouri after tornadoes hit the Saint Louis area on Friday, April 22, 2011. Photo credit: R. Gino Santa Maria/Shutterstock

A natural disaster can leave a homeowner feeling uprooted, both emotionally and financially. His brain may still be trying to process the emotional burden of the event, while being bombarded with additional worries: What is the condition of my home and belongings? How do I replace all those damaged documents?

The biggest question of all is probably where to start. It’s important to breathe deeply and focus on the positive aspects of coming up with a plan of action and deciding which items to prioritize. These helpful tips offer some guidance and encouragement in the face of a natural disaster.

The emotional costs

Most people are stuck in a state of shock after a hurricane, earthquake or other calamity impacts them. Denial is often a typical way survivors try to cope with the loss of loved ones and valuables, but this can perpetuate suffering. Devastating weather events are one of the leading causes of post-traumatic stress disorder, so it’s important to talk to a therapist or join a support group as soon as possible to get a sense of solidarity, and address overwhelming depression and anxiety.

Psychology Today cautions that the effects of PTSD can be hard to predict, so it’s best to become familiar with the symptoms. Victims who have lost a pet or family member can attend grief counseling and seek help for survivor guilt. Parents should keep an eye on their kids and seek professional help for any behavioral signs that may indicate trauma.

The financial burden

The American Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are usually on hand to provide immediate support and shelter to homeowners who have experienced trauma or damage due to a natural disaster. However, what happens when the dust settles? Once a homeowner is back on his feet, it’s time to head home and assess the full extent of the damage. The premises may be dangerous to explore, so first make sure everything is structurally sound. Protective headgear, clothing and boots can help guard against minor injuries, which can be treated with a first-aid kit. Keep a cellphone on hand in case of an emergency.

Insurance companies can give advice about the types of documents they’ll need to process claims and quote policy deductibles — the more photos and videos a homeowner takes, the better. Since damage repair can be a big financial setback, homeowners often have to contact their mortgage company to make hardship payment arrangements.Scammers can use this time to capitalize on vulnerable victims, so be wary when making monetary decisions.

storm damaged home in Coal City, Ill.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, right, talks with Bryan Phelan, left, and neighbor John Halloran in the driveway of Phelan’s storm damaged home Tuesday, June 23, 2015, in Coal City, Ill., after a tornado passed through the area Monday evening.The National Weather Service confirmed a twister touched down in the community of approximately 5,000 residents, about 60 miles southwest of Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Picking up the pieces

It’s a good idea to invest in a water- and fire-resistant safe ahead of time to protect car titles, social security cards and other information. If official legal documents were destroyed in the wake of a tornado, flood or other natural disaster, replacing them can be time consuming. Some important personal items to replace include:

  • Birth, marriage and death certificates
  • Passports and driver’s licenses
  • Credit cards
  • Tax information
  • Car titles and property deeds
  • Insurance and medical documents

FEMA has a contact list of important phone numbers and addresses for the Social Security Administration, credit card companies, and other organizations that can help victims who need to replace documents.

Plan ahead

These tools help victims recover from disastrous natural events, but is there anything that can be done in advance to ease some of the burden? Many families agree on an evacuation or shelter plan, and pack a disaster kit filled with essential items:

  • Non-perishable food and water
  • Clothing and blankets
  • Flashlights and batteries
  • Cellphone chargers
  • Candles and matches

The trauma of any natural disaster can leave a lifelong impact, but there are several resources available to aid survivors as they recover. Though careful planning can do much to lessen the risk of some of these challenges, there’s no way to prepare for everything.

Homeowners should leave the legwork up to the professionals and volunteers, and go easy on themselves. Remember that homeowners aren’t at fault, and though it might be a while until things feel normal again, any setback can be the start of a bright new beginning.

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