Tips on flooded home, car

Tips on flooded home, car

If the record rains in South Florida proved one thing, it’s that it doesn’t take a named storm to cause widespread damage to homes and cars.

Almost 26 inches of rain fell on Fort Lauderdale during a 24-hour period last week. Videos circulated on social media showed cars driving through submerged streets and many becoming stranded as a result. Residents sloshed through their flooded homes waiting for the water to recede.

Palm Beach County, too, was on the receiving end of a lot of rainfall. Nearly 5 inches fell at Palm Beach International Airport in the 24 hours that ended at midnight Sunday, breaking an 1893 record for April 16.

Roughly half of homeowners in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties have flood insurance, said Mark Friedlander, spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute. That’s better than the  of Florida homeowners and  of U.S. homeowners who have this coverage.

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Yet that still leaves half unprotected from flood damage, he noted. Homeowners are required to carry flood insurance only if they have a mortgage and live in a FEMA-, or Federal Emergency Management Agency-designated flood zone. Starting this month, state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. will be phasing in a requirement that new policyholders have flood insurance.

Here is some advice on how to proceed if you were affected by the recent flooding, or how to be prepared for a future natural disaster:

What should I do if flooding damaged my home, car or both?

First and foremost, document the damage and file a claim with your insurance provider, Friedlander said. This can be done by app or by contacting your insurance agent.

For cars, comprehensive coverage includes not only flooding but also trees falling on the car, hail, fire, theft, vandalism and cracked windshields, Friedlander said. This type of coverage must be carried by drivers with an auto loan but is optional for those in Florida who lease or own their car outright.

For homes, condos and rental units, the only product that will cover flood damage is flood insurance. This is usually a separate policy, either provided by the federal government through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) or by some private companies. It also can come as a specific rider on your property insurance policy.

If your home has standing water, contact an electrician before turning on or off the power, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.

Next, when it is safe to do so, start drying out your home or car “to stop the damage from getting worse and to be proactive about it,” said Delray Beach-based public adjuster Henry Ortlieb. This can be done either by airing it out, using a wet/dry vacuum cleaner or hiring a professional to prevent mold from growing and spreading. You should also throw out any food that came into contact with flood waters.

It’s important to note that federal flood insurance won’t cover living expenses like a private flood insurance policy might. Also, check your auto policy to see if a rental car will be covered.

If you make temporary repairs, Friedlander suggested taking pictures before the repairs are made, keeping the receipts to add to your claim.

Someone knocked on my door to help me with my flood damage. What should I do?

Often after a disaster, homeowners are bombarded by contractors or adjusters at their door, offering their services. Some are just trying to make a living, while there may be “a lot of bad apples out there,” Ortlieb said.

It’s best to do your research on whoever comes to your door to ensure they are licensed and insured before agreeing to or signing anything, experts said. Even getting a referral from someone you know who has worked with this person in the past is optimal.

“Be careful of what you’re signing. I would be wary of anybody asking for money upfront, especially if you’re dealing with insurance companies,” Ortlieb said.

The American Automobile Association suggests getting detailed estimates from at least three licensed and insured contractors, and to have your insurance company inspect the property before any work is done.

“Make sure you’re dealing with the right people,” Ortlieb said. “You always want people to make sure they’re comfortable.”

My car was stranded on the road or flooded while parked at home. Should I try to start it?

No. It’s possible that water got into the engine, and turning it on could further damage it. The car could be declared a total loss. If the water level didn’t reach the door and the inside is dry, it’s possible that the car is safe. But make sure to get it checked out by a professional first.

“Most likely, if you’re talking about submerged, it’s not going to start,” said David Hoffa, an insurance agent with Topline Insurance.

Instead, what you should do is take photos of your car, and damage that focus around the water line. Start to dry out your car to avoid electrical or mold issues. And, of course, contact your insurer.

Driving in a flooded area is incredibly risky and can put you and your car in danger. Emergency management officials often say “turn around, don’t drown” for this reason, as you don’t truly know how deep the water is.

I don’t have flood insurance. Do I need it?

Whether or not to get flood insurance is completely up to the homeowner. It’s all about managing risks.

At the very least, now is the time to do an insurance checkup with your agent to make sure your property and auto insurance coverage is what you need. If you haven’t already, you can create a photo inventory of everything in your home that will be useful if you need to file a claim. It can be helpful, but not necessary, to know the cost of valuable items.

“Florida is the state most vulnerable to flooding in the country,” Friedlander said. Flooding is possible outside of FEMA maps, with storms in the summer or king tides.

Keep in mind that federal flood insurance takes 30 days after buying it to go into effect. The official start to the Atlantic hurricane season is just around the corner, on June 1.

Hannah Morse covers consumer issues for The Palm Beach Post. Drop a line at [email protected], call 561-820-4833 or follow her on Twitter @mannahhorse.