The Info You Need To Know

Damage from Hurricane Irma? How to navigate your insurance policy

Thousands of homeowners impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey will have to figure out how to deal with insurance claims and all the complicated work that can go along with filing a claim in order to begin rebuilding their lives and their home. 

First, what kind of homeowner’s insurance do you need?

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Some policyholders mistakenly think they need to insure their house for its resale value. You should be insuring your house for its replacement value, which is the amount it will take to rebuild the home if it is destroyed by a covered peril, like a hurricane or a tornado.

Your insurance agent will provide you with an estimate, but experts also advise paying a contractor, engineer or a trained appraiser to place the right replacement amount on a house if you do not agree with your agent or company replacement cost amount. Be aware that these expert expenses could be the responsibility of the homeowner.

In the event your home is destroyed, your policy will pay up to the limits on your policy to rebuild your home. Some insurers have what is called an inflation guard contained in the policy. This will increase the amount of insurance on your home by a small amount each year to keep up with inflation.

>> Related: Hurricane Irma: Live updates

Some insurers pay only the replacement value stated in your insurance contract, while others will provide a cushion of up to 25 percent. The replacement estimate may not take into account a surge in demand after a storm that could increase the cost of supplies and labor.

Contents coverage

Florida homeowners are allowed to waive coverage for furnishings and other contents. Some companies also allow consumers to pick the level of contents coverage. Insurers used to give consumers coverage pegged at a certain value of their structure — 50 percent was common — even if their furnishings and belongings were minimal.

Windstorm coverage

Florida statute 627.712 allows homeowners to exclude coverage for wind events in some cases. Most mortgage holders, however, require wind coverage.

To waive wind coverage, a homeowner must provide a letter from their lender that says it is all right with the lender if the insured drops the coverage. The savings from a policy by dropping windstorm coverage could be substantial, up to half of the total premiums paid.

Even so, use caution before dropping the coverage, because it comes with a high risk. It’s not just hurricanes that it covers, but any wind scenario. That would include a tree falling on your house if it did so as a result of a strong wind and not just a hurricane.

>> Related: NASA astronaut captures eerie images of Hurricane Irma’s destruction from space

Raising deductibles

An option that could offer substantial premium savings is raising your deductible. Your mortgage company might be able to veto such a move. Most insurers offer hurricane deductible of $500, 2 percent, 5 percent and 10 percent.

Florida Statute 627.701 allows insurers to offer deductibles beyond the 10 percent, but not all insurers offer larger deductible options. To have a deductible in excess of 10 percent, the home must be valued at less than $500,000 and the policyholder must provide to the insurer a letter, written in his or her own hand, saying what amount in deductible they are willing to pay.

Permission must also be obtained by the mortgage company if applicable. Calculate whether you could make repairs yourself in the event of a catastrophic event. Do you have $30,000 on hand, the amount you would pay if you took a 15 percent deductible, and your house suffered $200,000 worth of damage?

>> Related: Hurricane Irma damage: What to do before, during and after a flood

You will want to check your state's current laws before the storm hits to make sure you are covered after the storm.

After The Storm: Central Florida Power Outage Information

Many residents in Central Florida are in the dark as utility crews assess the damage caused by Hurricane Irma. While residents say they are frustrated, utility companies say their crews are working hard to safely restore power to thousands of homes.

How to keep your kids entertained and your sanity when trapped at home by severe weather

When severe weather traps you inside your home with your children, whether in the aftermath of a hurricane or during less severe bad weather and power outages, there are things you can do to keep kids entertained while you keep your sanity.

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If you're home for the day, or a few days, here are a few things you can do to stay entertained without going crazy or running up your data plans.

If you still have power:

Do some family-friendly baking:

One way to keep kids occupied is with a slew of simple cooking tasks (cracking eggs, manning the mixing bowl) and the promise of sweets.

Cooking Light has a roundup of “kid-friendly desserts,” including gluten-free s'more bars, chewy caramel apple cookies and more. If you run through that list, the Food Network has another.

And not having kids is no reason not to bake in bad weather: for company, just sub in the closet available roommates, family, friends or pets. (This advice applies to the rest of the list.)

>> Related: Hurricane Irma: What to do about fallen trees and how to stop the danger

Check out these party games:

Jackbox's Drawful is a bizarre twist on Pictionary: players score points not just for drawing the best possible version of, say, "angry ants"; but also for getting other players to guess their answer for a given drawing instead of the correct one.

Drawful comes packaged as part of the Jackbox Party Pack and is available to buy and download here, and is compatible with the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Amazon Fire TV and others. All you need to play is a phone, tablet or controller. 

But if you're feeling more competitive and less artistic, consider QuizUp. Available for both iPhone and Android. This competitive trivia app pits two players against each other in seven rounds of questions in one of several hundred different categories, including pop culture and academia. And it's free. 

Get crafty:

Create a crafting area in your home. Fill it with crafting materials like tape, paper and boxes. When inspiration strikes your child, they can create fun things in their own “workshop.”

Without power:

Get clever:

When the house goes dark, kids’ imaginations light up. A trip to the bathroom with a flashlight can become an adventure, and reading stories by candlelight will stick with them more than just another movie night. 

Get ahead of a power outage:

Stock up on glow sticks. Kids can really have fun with these simple light sticks. Once you crack them, they provide a bright light for up to 12 hours and a dim light for as long as 36 hours. They come in all kinds of shapes, sizes and colors, and can provide hours of fun for children.

>> Related: Hurricane Irma aftermath: Drone video shows St. Augustine damage

Build a fort:

Kids love building forts just for fun anyway. So if you find yourself in the dark without power, gather up pillows and blankets, and plan on moving some furniture around to help your little ones build the perfect fortress. You can even make it more like an adventure. Plan to snuggle in for the night, and maybe tell a few ghost stories, too.

Hurricane Irma damage: What to do before, during and after a flood

Emergency management  officials are quick to remind those living in coastal areas that it’s the water that a hurricane brings that is the biggest threat to lives and property.

According to the National Hurricane Center, storm surge, or the wall or water a hurricane pushes on land as it moves onshore, has accounted for about half of the deaths in hurricanes since 1970.

The danger of storm surge is so great that in 2017, the NHC changed its warning system to include a separate warning for surge alone. 

While you can do very little once the surge is at hand, there are some things you can do to stay safe from the flood waters it brings.

From the Federal Emergency Management Agency, here are tips for keeping safe during and after a flood.

Before a flood 
• If a flood is likely in your area, listen to the radio or television for information.
• Know the difference between a flood watch and a flood warning. A watch means flooding is possible. A warning means flooding is occurring or will occur soon.

When a flood is imminent
• Be prepared! Pack a bag with important items in case you need to evacuate. Don't forget to include needed medications.
• If advised to evacuate your home, do so immediately.
• If there is any possibility of a flash flood, move immediately to higher ground.
• If possible, bring in outdoor furniture and move essential items to an upper floor.
• Turn off utilities at the main switches or valves if instructed to do so. Disconnect electrical appliances.

During a flood
• Do not walk through moving water. As little as 6 inches (15 centimeters) of moving water can make you fall.
• If you have to walk in water, wherever possible, walk where the water is not moving. Use a stick to check the firmness of the ground in front of you.
• Do not drive into flooded areas. If floodwaters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground if you can do so safely.
• Do not touch electrical equipment if you are wet or standing in water.

After a flood
• Listen for news reports to learn whether the community's water supply is safe to drink.
• Avoid floodwaters; water may be contaminated by oil, gasoline, or raw sewage. Water may also be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.
• Avoid moving water.
• Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded. Roads may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car.
• Stay away from downed power lines, and report them to the power company.
• Return home only when authorities indicate it is safe.
• Stay out of any building if it is surrounded by floodwaters.
• Service damaged septic tanks, cesspools, pits, and leaching systems as soon as possible. Damaged sewage systems are serious health hazards.
• Clean and disinfect everything that got wet. Mud left from floodwater can contain sewage and chemicals.

Source: U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency

Pool damage from Hurricane Irma, or any storm? Here’s what to do

Hurricane Irma barreled through Florida over the weekend and is now making its way as a tropical storm through parts of the southeast. The powerful Category 5 hurricane left a path of destruction in its wake from the Caribbean to Florida.

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Here are tips for protecting your pool before a hurricane, and how to get back up and running after.

Preparing a pool for a hurricane or storm:

-Don’t drain the water from your pool. Leave the water level alone. Draining it, so it doesn’t overflow, is pointless. If you drain it more than a few feet below normal and the ground gets saturated, the pool’s shell could pop out of the ground (even with concrete pools). Water provides weight to hold the sides and bottom in place.

-Turn off the power to the pump motor, lights and other equipment at the circuit box. Disconnect the gas from the heater; if possible, have your gas supplier or pool service disconnect it to be safe.

>> Related: Gas lines grow, pumps run dry: 8 tips to max out the fuel you have

-Consider removing diving boards or slides if you fear they won’t be secure in high winds. If you decide to remove them, try to have a professional do it.

-If the motor is exposed and you live in a flood-prone area, remove the pump and store it indoors. Otherwise, try to wrap it up with a waterproof cover and tie securely.

-Remove automatic pool cleaners, pool blankets and covers, and take them inside.

-Super-chlorinate or double the chemicals you normally add to reduce contamination and infestation by insects.

-Stock up on chemicals to “shock” pool after storm.

-Don’t throw patio furniture in the pool to keep it out of the wind; pool chemicals will harm the furniture and can mar the pool finish.

>> Related: Hurricane Irma: 9 weather terms you should know

After the storm has passed:

-Call the gas company or a pool company to reattach your gas line to the pool heater.

-Don’t reconnect electrical equipment until you’ve removed debris from the pool with a net, and power has been restored. Make sure electrical equipment is dry. Do this as quickly as possible before bacteria starts to grow.

-Don’t use your vacuum because debris will clog it and the pump.

-Then, if the area around the pool is dry, start the pump.

-When draining the pool tothe  proper level, remove cartridge filter or bypass the filter system.

-Super-chlorinate again. Remove any vegetative debris before treating the water. Add 5 gallons of chlorine (based on a 15,000-gallon pool) and start pump after inspecting electrical equipment to be sure it’s dry.

-Reset timers, if necessary.

>> Related: Photos: History’s most destructive hurricanes

-Closely watch the pump system through complete cycles for any problems.

-Wait 24 hours to see whether the water clears and turns blue. If it does, test water and follow instructions. If water is darker or black, pool may need to be drained, or partially drained, treated and refilled. Call a professional for this step.

-Balance pool chemicals and monitor for a few days.

Keep the butter, toss the eggs: What to keep, throw away if you lost power after Irma

With millions of people having lost power due to Hurricane Irma,  thousands of pounds of spoiled food come along with the end of the catastrophic storm.

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Even for those who followed the golden rules of keeping your food safe, like keeping your refrigerator door closed and placing your perishable items in the freezer, some foods simply may not be worth saving after a power outage of 24 hours or more.

If you’re going through your fridge over the next few days, we’ve got you covered.

Here’s a list of what food you can keep and what should be thrown out after a power outage:

Tip: Discard any perishable food, including meat, poultry and seafood, that has been above 40 degrees F for more than 2 hours.

What to throw out:

Eggs

Cheese

Yogurt

Sour cream

Cut fruit

Condiments

Biscuits

What to keep:

Butter

Margarine

Fruit juice

Canned fruits

Whole fruits

Jams

Pickles

Vinegar-based dressings

Soy sauce

Mustard

Olives

Ketchup

Bread 

Rolls

Muffins

Tortillas

Waffles

Pancakes

Raw vegetables

Fruit pies

Herbs

Read more about food safety here.

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