The devastation that occurs from natural disasters such as Hurricane Matthew is unexpected and overwhelming. Natural disasters take a huge emotional toll on the human psyche and can drastically affect a person’s ability to function and cope. Initial feelings of shock and denial can quickly give way to a hyper-emotional state that could include debilitating levels of anxiety, guilt helplessness, or depression. These trauma symptoms could likely affect a person’s ability to make rational decisions. Unfortunately, for those directly affected by the disaster, time is of the essence and proper decision making skills are an absolute necessity. Those that have suffered property damage must take the proper steps to protect themselves and the value of their property damage claim. During times of natural disaster, it is crucial to reach out for the proper assistance. It is imperative to stay connected to federal, state, and local agencies. The following is a quick reference guide to assist survivors with the information necessary to stay connected.
All home owners, renters, and business owners that have suffered a flood or wind-driven damage loss from Hurricane Matthew should register with FEMA as they may be eligible for disaster assistance.
There are 3 Ways to Register with FEMA:
- Online: www.DisasterAssistance.gov
- By Phone: 1-800-621-3362 or TTY 800-462-7585
- In Person: Visit a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC). Download the FEMA App to find the nearest location.
Helpful Hurricane Matthew Links:
To help residents and emergency personnel stay connected in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, Comcast has opened up thousands of XFINITY Wi-Fi hotspots in areas affected by the storm in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. These Wi-Fi hotspots are open to anyone who needs them – including non-Comcast subscribers. Click here for a map of XFINITY Wi-Fi hotspots.
Low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration may also be available to cover losses not fully compensated by insurance.
Avoid a second disaster. Know that scam artists, identity thieves and other criminals may attempt to prey on vulnerable survivors. Be aware of phony housing inspectors, fraudulent building contractors, fraudulent pleas for disaster donations, and fake offers for state or federal aid.
Survivors should keep in mind:
- Federal and state workers never ask for, or accept money, and always carry identification badges.
- There is NO FEE required to apply for or to get disaster assistance from FEMA, the U.S. Small Business Administration or the state.
- Scam attempts can be made over the phone, by mail or email, text or in person.
- Avoid price gouging which occurs when a supplier marks up the price of an item more than is justified by his actual costs. Survivors are particularly susceptible because their needs are immediate, and have few alternatives to choose from. Please report any instances of price gouging to your state consumer affairs or attorney general’s office.
Survivors should take steps to protect themselves and avoid fraud when hiring contractors to remediate and repair their property. Simple rules to avoid becoming a victim of fraud:
- Only use contractors licensed by your state.
- Get a written estimate and get more than one estimate.
- Demand and check references.
- Ask for proof of insurance.
- Insist on a written contract and refuse to sign a contract with blank spaces.
- Get any guarantees in writing.
- Make final payments only after the work is completed.
- Pay by check.
The best way to avoid fraud is to arm yourself against it by having a checklist to remind you of what you need to demand when hiring a contractor.
If you are aware of a potential scam in a state affected by Hurricane Matthew, you can report it to that state’s consumer affairs or attorney general’s office by calling or filing online:
- Florida – 1-866-966-7226
- Georgia – 1-800-869-1123
- North Carolina – 1-877-566-7226
- South Carolina – 1-800-922-1594
Those who question the validity of a contact or suspect fraud are encouraged to call the toll free FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721. Complaints also may be made by contacting local law enforcement agencies.
Dealing with the requirements of properly filing a property loss claim with your insurance carrier is a daunting task. The terms and requirements of your insurance policy are complicated. Filing mistakes could likely lead to the insurer denying your insurance claim. Consider hiring a public adjuster to help document the loss and damage. A public adjuster works directly for you and will handle every aspect of your claim so you can repair and restore your property or business in its entirety. Public adjusters are typically compensated based on a percentage of your recovery. In disaster situations, Florida State law limits that fee to no more than 10% of the claim proceeds.
- National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters (NAPIA)
- NAPIA online directory to find a public insurance adjuster in your state
- Florida Association of Public Adjusters
- Georgia Association of Public Adjusters
Last but most important, survivors, volunteers, and emergency responders need to be mindful of their physical and mental health. Please contact your health professional immediately should you start to suffer signs of post-traumatic stress disorder such as panic attacks, flash backs of the storm, uncontrollable emotions, anxiety, and/or depression. Also the National Disaster Distress Helpline is available if you are experiencing emotional distress due to the storm. This toll-free, multilingual, crisis support service is available 24/7 by telephone at 1-800-985-5990
The attorneys at Merlin Law Group are always available to answer any of your questions related to your Hurricane Matthew insurance loss.