How to Handle Hurricane Irma Repairs - HALP
September 14, 2017 6:26 AM   Subscribe

My 72-year-old mother and I are trying to sort out what needs to be done after our home took a direct hit from Irma. My dad always handled this stuff, but he passed away in May, and we don't know what we're doing. We're losing our minds -- help!

We live on Marco Island, which was ground zero for Irma. Our house didn't get flooded, and we still have a roof, but there's so much to do and we are overwhelmed. My father always handled these things. We've made a list of the damage that we know of and taken photos. Our main concerns right now:

-The island has water service back. We do not. I called the local utility yesterday; the woman who answered snapped that some mains are broken, but she couldn't confirm that's why we don't have water. We don't even know if it's the street/area or just us -- we plan on asking others on our street if they have water when we see them. We're not particularly close with our neighbors and I'm not comfortable knocking on doors to ask.

-We have multiple electric lines down in our street and driveway. I contacted the electric company via Facebook; they said to "use caution" around the lines. I don't think they're live, but they've been down for days. About 60% of the island has power; we (obviously) do not. We haven't even seen a truck come our way to inspect the lines yet.

-We have a 30-foot palm blocking our driveway. It's too big for us to move and I'm afraid to even try because the downed power lines are tangled in it. We can't access our driveway via car. We're contacting lawn maintenance companies that have been recommended to us by friends, but so far no one is getting back to us. We don't know anyone who can come over with a chainsaw.

-There are what appear to be exposed wires on the side of the house -- we don't know what they're for, but we think they have something to do with the pool controls and they got pulled out when the screen cage was blown over. We need an electrician for this, right? We have the breaker to the pool area turned off. Pics of wires:

-Our roof appears okay aside from some missing shingles, but it'd still be a good idea to get it inspected by a roofer, right? Again, we're getting recommendations from friends to avoid being scammed, but no roofers are even answering their phones right now.

-We have homeowners and flood insurance. I've contacted both and filed claims, but how do we know who's supposed to cover what when it comes to damage? We're waiting to be assigned adjusters from both insurers -- will they likely help us through the process? Both told us to go ahead with any necessary temporary repairs and keep the receipts -- were trying to do this but no one is getting back to us.

We have a thousand other things to deal with, too -- we're trying to get in touch with our screen guy to see about replacing the pool cage, we're doing cleanup around the house as we can, etc. We're going nuts from the lack of water/power, but we're not comfortable leaving the house vacant and we have cats, so taking off to a hotel isn't really an option. We can't even manage to get ice locally right now. We charge our phones in the car and hope the gas situation gets better before we run low.

My major concerns are the lack of water, the exposed wires on the house, the downed power lines, and the tree blocking our driveway. Any advice? Anything else we should be considering? I'm trying so hard to be in control of this and get things done, but I have a pretty severe anxiety disorder and this is really pushing my limits. My mom is extra stressed because this is all happening right after she lost the person she depended on to handle these things, and I don't know how else to help her.
posted by QuickedWeen to Home & Garden (23 answers total)
So - recognize that water and power isn't something you can control. I would reconsider the hotel idea (many places will accept pets during emergencies) as it will make life more liveable for the foreseen future. Further, you may want to contact your insurance company to see what you're covered for and whether no water/no electricity will allow you to access insurance for temporary housing at a hotel.

You should report the downed powerlines through some official means (often the social media folks are not actual intake folks - phone is better.) At that point, the utilities that be know about your issues and there's nothing more you can do about it in the short term. Check those off your list.

Re: electricians and trees - it's very likely that the companies that do this work are completely overwhelmed. Areas have enough electricians for maintenance but there's no ramp up ability for intense periods. The breaker for the pool is off and it doesn't sound like there's any sparking so there's no immediate danger.

Really, I would spend my time investigating whether your house insurance can put you up somewhere more hospitable until your water and electricity is done. Everything else can wait - there's likely too much demand for each of the things you're looking for at the moment, so focus on your welfare because that's something you can control.
posted by notorious medium at 6:34 AM on September 14, 2017 [12 favorites]

Definitely reach out to your electric company via phone, not Facebook. They must have a website with instructions on how to report outages and downed power lines. If you tell us what company it is we might even be able to help figure out what the best number to call is.

Lawn companies (once you can reach one and it may be a while, sorry) might not even touch the palm tree until the wires are removed, this should be your priority.

I would try to marshal up some courage (I have anxiety too, I know how it feels!) and talk to the neighbors. You might be able to not only gather information, but also share contractors once someone gets one over for repairs. For example: if you have just one palm to take care of, you might be able to pay your neighbor's arborist to chip it while they're there.
posted by lydhre at 6:42 AM on September 14, 2017 [8 favorites]

Going to try not to threadsit, but just to note: I did officially report the downed lines through the emergency form on the electric company's website. There are dozens of downed lines in the area.
posted by QuickedWeen at 6:47 AM on September 14, 2017

Seconding using 'official' lines to report your downed wires and calling the water utility again to find out if they have your area as an outage and ask if they have an estimated time for repair.

Please go talk to your neighbors. Everyone is in the same boat now and you'll be surprised how helpful and friendly people are being. They may know people who can help you.

For the shingle situation, you need a handyman (get recommendations from your neighbors) to put up some tarps so you don't get secondary leaking. Then work on trying to find a reputable roofer. I suggest looking on NextDoor for roofers your neighbors recommend.

No landscape company is going to touch the tree across your driveway if it has power lines near it. Give that idea up and focus your energy elsewhere. The power company will have to clear the area first. Focus your energy on clearing the rest of the yard if possible. Use some caution tape to cordon off areas with down or exposed wires.

Work on getting your insurance company to cover evacuating to a hotel. It sounds as if your home may be unsafe due to wires down. Also, your mom may well need to have a/c in order to stay healthy.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 6:50 AM on September 14, 2017 [9 favorites]

Advocating for leaving temporarily. We had no AC for six days. It complicated and negatively impacted our decisions. it's hot and miserable and your mom is not young: you will both feel much more capable with a shower and some sleep. Lots of hotels are pet friendly, and the governor asked publicly for others open their policies as well during this state of emergency. I have travelled with cats many times before and kept them in hotels, with great success.

Cautionary note on this: the place for hotel-visiting kitties is the bathroom if people are coming in and out. A friend of mine who evacuated had an anxious few days after her normally docile kitteh, terrified, slipped out the hotel door and disappeared. (shoutout to the hero hotel employee who scanned eight hours of surveillance video to see kitteh slipping into a vacant room; kitteh was safely recovered.)

Talk to your neighbors. Seriously. I had some great conversations this week with folks I've barely said "hi" too.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 7:00 AM on September 14, 2017 [9 favorites]

I'm an introvert with some social anxiety, so asking questions of neighbors I don't normally talk to can be tough for me, too. But, I live in a disaster-prone area, and I can say from experience that "Is your water/power out also?" or "Have you heard anything from the utility company about when service might be restored?" are definitely the kind of questions neighbors not only expect from other neighbors during a disaster like this but welcome. They may even feel like you're doing them a favor by checking up on them. I know it's tough to approach people you don't feel you have a relationship with, but, if local official services are overwhelmed, your neighbors are often the best resource in the first days after a disaster.

You did the right thing contacting both your homeowners' and flood insurance companies right away. You are also right that you ought to get a roof inspection-- but you may have a very, very long wait on getting a reputable local company to come out and take a look. After softball-sized hail damaged every roof for miles in my area one year, it took me over a month to even find someone to take a look at it, which was very frustrating for me, but companies were prioritizing people with gaping holes or obvious leaks. And that was a much less devastating situation than you are dealing with. Definitely make sure that any roofer you work with has a BBB file, multiple reviews posted online from local customers, and a local address (so you can track them down if you have any problems with their work). It's totally true that fly-by-night "roofers" will swoop in from out of state in situations like this and offer to help desperate people only to do the job shoddily, leave it unfinished, or never do the work at all, so do some quick research on anyone who approaches you to make sure they have an established local business that has been around for over a year.

It sounds to me like you certainly will need an electrician, too, but, they may not be able to help you until your power company has come to fix the downed lines.

Because your mother is in her 70s and needs to be in a safe space ASAP, it may be that you'd qualify for rebuilding help from one of the many charities sending volunteers to help Irma victims take care of critical home repairs right now. That's something you might want to look into on top of your insurance claims.

I'm really sorry you are dealing with all this, and I hope you can find good help soon to get your home put back together!
posted by BlueJae at 7:22 AM on September 14, 2017 [5 favorites]

You need to reset your expectations for a timeline to get things repaired. All the companies are completely overwhelmed. It could honestly be a month or more before you are able to get someone to come out. Water and power could be weeks. You need to talk to your insurance company to see if they will pay for a more permanent move for you while you wait on getting power and water back to the house. Look into extended stay hotels - many will take pets, particularly now. Stay away from downed power lines and loose wires, and find a temporary long-term stay place to move to. Sorry.
posted by Toddles at 7:39 AM on September 14, 2017 [7 favorites]

Here are some organizations that say they will be offering help for Irma victims that you might want to try contacting:

AirBnB is offering free temporary places to stay for people who need shelter.

Habitat for Humanity is offering help rebuilding houses.

Catholic Charities USA is offering water, food, supplies and rebuilding help.
posted by BlueJae at 7:39 AM on September 14, 2017 [2 favorites] will help you find a hotel in your area (although they may be full and you may have to drive). You can also apply for FEMA funds through there. Good luck!
posted by mrfuga0 at 7:51 AM on September 14, 2017

It is also okay to visit nearby shelters during the day or at night to avoid the intense heat and take a break.

So even if you want to stay, I encourage you to find the nearest shelter with power and check in to figure out what localized resources are there, if you need to utalize it as a cooling center, or for some rest.

This way you can go back snd forth to your cats but not be 100 percent without power.

After Katrina IMHO people really learned to talk to each other and encourage each other. Reach out to those around you, it is worth it. I felt so much more a part of a community after.

It does get better .
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:57 AM on September 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

A. If you have friends or family not too far, ask them to bring you a barrel of water (one of these) or go fetch it if you have a vehicle. Personally, I'd just ask for it at the first thouse with water in the neighbourhood.

B. You need to assess the damage by asking neighbours whether they have electricty or water. You may not be comfortable knocking on people's doors but the aftermath of a hurricane is no time to listen to your fears. Please ask them. This will at least enable you to tell the utility companies that the area affected is just your house, your street, your neighbourhood.

C. Phone the water and electricity companies to see what plan they have in place to resume proper service, and insist until you have an answer.

Also, at 72 your mother is not so old than she cannot help with these tasks, unless she is sick or disabled, so get her to assist in the efforts. If this all proves too much, do you have anyone in your life that can come and run the errands for you?
posted by Kwadeng at 7:59 AM on September 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

If your utility company is Florida Power and Light, they were hoping to have the worst-affected areas up by September 22. I imagine other utility companies in the area are on a similar time frame.

Otherwise, is the tree blocking the street at all? Can you physically leave? Gas Buddy is showing a couple of stations on Marco Island with fuel and power. Publix is also open on Marco Island, until 6PM today.

The water will also likely take time. You'll need a professional to remove the trees, but they're already booked for months in some of the lesser-hit areas that also have tons of tree damage. They may also not have power back yet themselves, either, depending on where their offices are.

Heat, stress, and fatigue are definitely not helping your anxiety. In your shoes, I'd press harder on insurance to get you a temporary place to stay so you can start wrapping your head around everything. You might have to be a little pushier.

I hate, hate, hate, talking to my neighbors because of my terrible anxiety, too. But yesterday, we were all out on or street, raking up branches and washing leaves from our cars. We were able to tell someone that our trash pick-up was moved to Wednesday this week, and someone else told me that the city hadn't rescheduled the yard waste pick-up yet. If your mom is less anxious -- maybe she can initiate the conversation with her neighbors?
posted by PearlRose at 8:17 AM on September 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

For the tree in the driveway, keep an eye and ear out for yard maintenance people or neighbors with chainsaws working in the neighborhood. You can go up to them and ask if they could take care of your tree when they're done with the job they're working on. A neighbor might do it for free, but have cash on hand.
posted by ShooBoo at 8:58 AM on September 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

As for the tree, call your local government. Explain your situation and ask that they cut up the tree. In my town, in an emergency, they would. I would explain that emergency service vehicles cannot access your house and your street.

Also, if I could not get my car out of the driveway and could not get anyone to cut the tree on a timely basis, I would drive my car over the lawn to get to the street. Your insurance company should pay for a reseeding of the lawn if need be.

Even if you choose to stay in your house, you need to have access in and out to get provisions and for emergency services. Drive the lawn even if it means going over your neighbors lawn once in order to park your car on the street.

I would also call back my insurance company and ask them for recommendations and referrals for people to work on the house. The definitely have a list of approved contractors and will be working with some during Irma. Contractors that take insurance work know they will get paid, have an incentive to do good work and not rip people off and will have a steady flow of customers.

As for the water and electric, keep on contacting them. Let them know you STILL don't have services. I would contact them once in the morning and again in the late afternoon. Be persistent. I have knowledge of the inner workings of Con Ed here in NY and if FPL is anything like them, the squeeky wheel will get the oil.
posted by AugustWest at 9:12 AM on September 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry about the loss of your dad and this terrible disaster. I think you're incredibly lucky that your home isn't flooded and you have insurance to cover the repairs. I know it doesn't feel like a "lucky" situation, but I really did not expect to read that when I opened this thread.I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I saw that in your question. You're not hearing back from contractors because they are extremely busy with "essential" customers (big commercial/civic buildings, clearing busy roads) and probably just trying to repair their own homes. I think the above advice to find a temporary home base is best. Your house is not livable with downed power lines and no water - if you have energy to make phone calls and contact companies, focus on calling your insurance companies or hotels.
I think if your dad was handling this situation, he would do the same. Or maybe he was a "hands on" person who would cut down a tree himself. But even in that situation, it would be crazy for him to cut down a tree with power lines on it, so even if that's the kind of thing he might have done, it doesn't mean you should do it.
posted by areaperson at 10:03 AM on September 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

At the very least you should walk around your neighborhood and see if others have already gotten their power restored. If your neighbors have power maybe they would let you run an extension cord for just some basic needs like charging phone and a lightbulb or two. Now is definitely the time to make some new friends.

Do you have any tools at all, like a handsaw? Palm trees are weird and they mess up chainsaws. They're really a big giant grass and nowhere near as hard to saw by hand as a tree. The instructions in the link are for cutting one down, yours is already down. As long as you don't touch any of the wires you should be ok cutting with a handsaw.

Last year Hurricane Matthew blocked our truck in with a fallen tree. We didn't have internet or power, but I asked one of my sons (who lives elsewhere) to post on my facebook page that we needed a chainsaw for an hour or so. Some friends who live a mile or so away showed up within an hour and freed the truck. Check if maybe there is a Next Door or similar Facebook page where you can ask for help. Local teenagers here in Savannah which didn't get Irmad as badly as you did are volunteering to help people clear out fallen limbs and such.

Good luck and do please let us know how you're faring!
posted by mareli at 2:54 PM on September 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Another thought: change your location in your profile here to Marco Island and then you'll be able to see if any mefites live nearby. If any do then send them memail asking for help, recommendations, etc.
posted by mareli at 2:58 PM on September 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

QuickedWeen, I absolutely love your name. I was driving back into Florida Saturday before the storm. Most of the trip we were the only car going south on I95. Everything besides us traveling south was convoy after convoy of bucket trucks and gas tankers from all over the country. After the storm, a few of those same trucks were in my neighborhood, and my next door neighbor flagged down an Asplundh crew from Kentucky. They chainsawed a tree that had fallen and was leaning on her roof. People came from far away to help you. You and your mom are exactly who they were imagining that moonlit pre-dawn back in New Jersey when they pulled themselves up into the cabs of their bucket trucks and tankers and fired them up to drive down here.

I second everybody who says you seem to have done the stuff that you can safely do yourselves. Keep calling to make sure you're on the radar with the power company. If you hear chainsaws, head outside and make friends with the wonderful people of Kentucky. (Or New York or Maine or whichever convoy you get.) (I am crossing my fingers for you that you get a Xylem truck. That is the best treetrimming company name ever. They are out of Norfolk, VA, and we saw them on I-95 on their way to come help you get that palm tree out of your driveway.)

I understand not wanting to just pick up and leave, but you can take breaks. Collier County has stepped up and is updating their page with good info:

Apparently there are cooling centers where you can go from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. to get some relief. Take some breaks for water and AC--and as a bonus you might pick up some news about services while you're cooling off while not staring miserably at what is (temporarily!) impossible-to-deal with disarray.

Stop worrying about the roof for now. It's probably completely fine, and even if it has problems, it's a low-priority thing compared to water, electricity, and access.

I know you know this, but stay away from wires. Don't try to deal with that palm tree yourself if there are wires tangled up with it.

Did you call FEMA, yet? Here's the Collier County page on how to apply for FEMA help:
posted by Don Pepino at 3:18 PM on September 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

If you go to this site you can find a Next Door group for your neighborhood.
posted by mareli at 3:23 PM on September 14, 2017

The electric company will probably not want to re-energize the house with the downed electrical equipment for the pool. Since the power is out, it might be possible to put it back up on the wall in some fashion and turn the breakers off for that until it can be repaired properly.
If they don't see the damage, they may go ahead and re-power the house - so find the breakers and turn that mess off at the very least.
As a general note, turn off your main breaker until the power crews have power back up. Some neighbors down the street didn't do that with Matthew and the electrical surge destroyed some appliances.
posted by rudd135 at 5:35 PM on September 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

YES, turn off the breaker. Same thing happened to a lady in my town; the surge fried her electric stove and in the process charred the wall behind it. Luckily it didn't burn the house down.
posted by Don Pepino at 6:17 AM on September 15, 2017

Here's a facebook page where people in Florida are asking for and offering help:
Nothing in Marco Island, yet, but Naples has sleeping space for two as of five minutes ago.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:39 AM on September 15, 2017

Thank you to everyone for all the suggestions and encouragement! Just to close this out, things got rolling more smoothly almost as soon as I posted. We finally found a store with ice in stock, which really helped in terms of the heat. Also, my dad was well-known in our city, and old acquaintances came out of the woodwork, offering help. Everything's been inspected and the most dire issues have been fixed. I took the advice from here and made myself talk to neighbors; once I found out everyone else had water, I contacted the utility again. Getting our water back was an all-day battle with the city insisting the issue was on our end and our plumber saying it was a city problem, but we finally figured it out (palm tree roots broke a deep line -- we have a temporary hookup and we'll get a new line on Monday). Linemen fixed the downed lines yesterday and our power came back last night, and a former coworker knew a guy with a chainsaw, so the tree is out of the driveway. Still a lot to do, but we're cool and clean, which makes the work easier.

Totally agree with those who pointed out that we were lucky. We've said that to each other daily. Marco's infrastructure and building codes are designed for hurricanes, but if the storm surge had been as high as predicted, most houses would've been completely underwater. We've just had a lot of uncertainty and a lot of big decisions to make without Dad here, so again, we appreciate all the responses!
posted by QuickedWeen at 10:59 AM on September 16, 2017 [6 favorites]

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