Sunday, November 11, 2012

Surviving the Storm: The first of many letters to those who braved Hurricane Sandy

 As many of you know I lived in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. I lived near the 17th Street canal breech and lost my home and everything I owned during this devastating storm. We had over 10ft of water in our home for close to 20 days. My oldest daughter was 2 and I had just given birth to our second daughter 8 weeks prior to us evacuating. This blog post is NOT about me but about how what I experienced may be able to help YOU. I do feel however that you need a little of my back story. My husband and I are from New Orleans and the home we were living in during the storm was built in 1942. The home was 2000sqft plus a small guest house and had never flooded. My husband is a Veterinarian and I had owned my Professional Organizing business for 2 years. We were young professionals with not a lot of extra money because we were just starting our family. I watched the news as Sandy approached the Northeast in disbelief and sadness. Mother Nature is powerful and her path can leave unparalleled destruction. It brought me back to where I was 7 years ago. I can tell you that the memories of Katrina are still hard. I can tell you that you have a long road to travel and that some days you are going to feel like giving up. I can also tell you that with the right help and surrounded by support, it will get better.

 Right now you are in survival mode. You are focused on your most basic needs and that’s fine. During this time one of my clients gave me the best piece of advice; take any and all help that is offered to you. In the months to come you will be fighting very hard to be paid by the insurance company for your damages. You may have lost income due to time off work or damages to your own business. Whether money seems like a big deal right now or not, in time it could be a different story if you aren’t careful. Help and resources from the government are hard to get but I will have a blog devoted especially to that in the days to come. Right now, don’t turn away ANY help.

I felt like I was an educated working woman and I didn’t need a handout, but I was wrong. My client informed me that even I was eligible for a one time food stamp card and that I should also look to food banks to help stock my pantry. This battle can be long and whatever money you do have could dwindle as the process to rebuild your life goes on, so save what you can by taking advantage of help that is offered. I received food stamps as well as help from a church for food. It was also nice to make the connection at the church because they were also a good resource for other items we needed. I received a check from the Red Cross and a small check for help with expenses from our insurance company. You are now your own boss, the new company; your life!You are responsible for researching, making calls, and being an advocate for rebuilding your life! Make sure you have a binder for your new company and that you keep EVERYTHING you receive and send out , basically anything pertaining to the storm in this one binder. You will need to refer to the information in this binder for a long time to come.

 For now, don’t forget to call everyone you owe money to. Let them know that you have been through a devastating storm and need to see what assistance they can provide. They may allow you to skip several car payments, reduce your monthly note for a period of time, etc. Call all of the utility and service companies for your home and cancel service if your home is destroyed. I remember calling the water company to cancel service and the lady on the phone said they couldn’t cancel my service! WHAT?? She told me that since my home was currently under 10ft of water, they couldn’t turn off the meter so I would be responsible for minimal charges that would still accrue. I am not kidding you! I told her that she was going to note the account that I called to cancel and that I suggested they get on some scuba gear and swim down to my meter and turn the damn thing off because after the hell I had been through and since I was struggling just to breathe she better not send me a bill for water! I was on fire. I collected all of the information and her name. And guess what!? The water company sent bills to my old home, but they were returned by the post office because no home stood where they were sending the bills and then 2 years later they tried to make a claim on our credit. I went to my binder, pulled my information to send to the credit bureau and the claim was removed. I was so glad to have collected the right information and to have kept it organized.

Another tip is to get a copy of your mortgage papers and your insurance papers and read them well. You will now learn the difference between flood and homeowners and the process will be painful for some of you. As for your mortgage papers, if you receive a check from your insurance company make sure know your rights before you pay off anything including your mortgage. I almost lost eligibility for help through SBA because I paid insurance money to my mortgage company!! I’ll post on that topic as well. I think what I have realized is that I could write for weeks even months on the things you need to know about surviving the storm.

You are not a victim of Hurricane Sandy, you are a survivor.