Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Help me quell my tornado anxieties...or not
April 16, 2012 4:27 PM   Subscribe

What happens if your house is damaged by a tornado? What happens to your stuff, what do you do about the immediate moment, etc?

Although I've taken precautions for keeping safe in the moment of a tornado, I find myself worrying a lot about what would happen if my house was damaged - not so much about the house (I assume a lengthy insurance wrangle) but to my stuff. What if the top floor is messed up but everything else is fine? Do I have to leave my grandparents' chairs and my great aunt's paintings to be ruined by wind and rain or taken by looters? Can I go back in? Do you always lose everything if your house is damaged? What do I do immediately afterward? What if one of my trees falls on my neighbor's house? What about my little safe with my important papers in it? How will I deal with the insurance, etc, if my papers are destroyed and I lose my ID?

I know you're not a lawyer and that things vary by jurisdiction - but some general thoughts would be helpful.
posted by Frowner to Home & Garden (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
One of my good friends just had her house destroyed by a tornado in Dexter, Michigan. As she said, they ran to the basement, there was lots of noise, and then it was raining in her living room. I'm basing my answers on what she went through.

>> What if the top floor is messed up but everything else is fine?

Your house will be inspected by local authorities and deemed safe for occupation or not. Just having the roof torn off is one thing, but there may be other damage, too, that makes the house unsafe.

>> Do I have to leave my grandparents' chairs and my great aunt's paintings to be ruined by wind and rain or taken by looters?

Nope. You can save what you can save.

>> Can I go back in?

Maybe. See the above about the house being deemed safe or not-safe.

>> Do you always lose everything if your house is damaged?

In my friend's case, the house was deemed a total loss, and a great deal of her furniture and possessions was ruined by rain. But clothes and small items were generally OK. She collected what she was able to collect and sent it into storage.

>> What do I do immediately afterward?

Call your insurance agency, which has a disaster team for precisely this problem. Call your local authorities (e.g. fire, city govt, Red Cross) for other assistance.

>> What if one of my trees falls on my neighbor's house?

You're actually liable for that, but your homeowner's policy has liability built in for precisely this issue. However, wish you neighbor good luck for trying to get someone to pay for that -- in the case of tornadoes, insurance agencies often adopt the "you take care of yours, we'll take care of ours" standpoint. In other words, your neighbor is able to file their own claim to their own agency.

>> What about my little safe with my important papers in it?

Take that with you, obviously, and thank your lucky stars that you thought ahead enough to get a safe. That's presuming you can find it, of course.

>> How will I deal with the insurance, etc, if my papers are destroyed and I lose my ID?

Just call your agency. They can verify your identity over the phone, provided you know your data (e.g. your SSN, your drivers license number). And even then, in most cases, the insurance company will get started with what they need to do just based on your initial claim of the tornado, allowing you time to renew your licenses and whatnot. An adjuster will come out to review the property just based on your call and the knowledge that there was a tornado in the area.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:39 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interesting.. I live near Dexter, and know a number of people dealing with this as well. Relax... the support is tremendous, people are helpful, insurance companies do an excellent job helping you through this.

You don't need to throw away anything you can salvage (safely).

Cool Papa Bell gave you all the answers, however, the part about the tree falling on the neighbors house is only partially correct. I recently had a neighbor's tree fall on my pole barn, my OWN insurance paid for the repair (about $7,000). Had I told him (and documented that) prior to the incident that the tree was dead and posed a danger to my property and requested him to correct that situation, his insurance would probably had paid, but, since I hadn't, it was considered an act of god and my policy covered it instead.
posted by HuronBob at 5:32 PM on April 16, 2012


Also, keep a video diary of your house and belongings, and keep it someplace else (like, uploaded to the cloud).
posted by HuronBob at 5:35 PM on April 16, 2012


Generally if your house is damaged by a tornado so are many of your neighbors houses. If you already don't know your neighbors, start getting to know them because if any disaster happens you will all have to work together to help each other out.

It is always a good idea to keep an inventory of expensive items. You don't have to keep track of every $1 trinket but it will help to have a list with pictures of televisions, computers, vehicles, etc in a safe place for insurance purposes.
posted by JJ86 at 6:43 AM on April 17, 2012


It is always a good idea to keep an inventory of expensive items. You don't have to keep track of every $1 trinket but it will help to have a list with pictures of televisions, computers, vehicles, etc in a safe place for insurance purposes.

Definitely this. If the family heirlooms have actual $$$ value, it might be helpful to have them specifically named on the policy. This should smooth the way for recovery- like if the house is deemed unsafe, the insurance company might hire someone to go in and recover the stuff and then to restore it. Rather than just pay out for replacement.

Make sure your policy allows for replacement costs of larger items, rather than just current value. Even if your refrigerator is 10 years old, if it gets destroyed, you need the cash to go out and buy one. Not the $50 it would have been worth if you tried to sell it.

It helps to over-insure. If you calculate that your stuff would cost $15,000 to replace, get a policy that covers $30,000. It will probably add a few dollars a year to the policy. But if the bad event should happen, the insurance company will be happy to have a claim for half of what they were on the hook for, rather than fighting with you because you are up at the limits of your policy.

Be aware of what portions of the policy cover what stuff. For example, I live in a condo which has a master policy. I mistakenly assumed this would restore my condo to "move-in condition", just like when I bought it. This was incorrect. Their policy only covers rebuilding/repairing the structure. All I'd be left with is bare studs and a concrete floor. My homeowner's insurance would have to cover redoing the electrical, drywall, floor coverings PLUS all my personal stuff. After doing a quick survey of prices at Home Depot, I realized I was under insured. I might be able to replace it all with the absolute cheapest contractor grade materials, but I wouldn't have any money left to pay for people to actually install it.

Also, make sure the policy covers things like emergency housing. I think there are additions you can make that will allow for the insurance company to cut you an immediate check for a couple thousand to buy new clothes, move into a hotel, etc.

Moral of the story: a guy I know was sitting in his living room when a drunk driver plowed through a fence, up his lawn, through the wall and pushed the guy (while still sitting in his easy chair) into the dining room. He was lucky in that he didn't really get hurt. And he was really lucky in that he had good insurance. Six months later, he's got what amounts to a brand new house. It was a lot of hassle, but what he didn't have to worry about was money. If he had been insured at the bare minimums, it wouldn't have been so easy.
posted by gjc at 7:18 AM on April 17, 2012


« Older Asking for my sister: she is m...   |  Proust's In Search of Lost Tim... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.