Storm WatchStorm Watch

How to prepare for a hurricane

Insurance 101

If you are told
to evacuate

After the hurricane

Is your paperwork in order?

By JUDY STARK, Times Homes Editor
©St. Petersburg Times, published June 2, 1998

Quick: If a hurricane threatens and you've been told to evacuate, which paperwork should you take with you?

Your first instinct may be to dump the contents of your desk drawers and filing cabinets into plastic bags and take every piece of paper -- every receipt, every certificate, every document.

That may be unnecessary.

Now, while skies are clear, think about what you'll really need and where it is. Prepare a hurricane file box or folder for papers you'll need immediately, and place other valuable documents somewhere hurricane-proof, such as a safe deposit box.

And, insurance experts say, prepare a home property inventory. (How to take inventory)

Ask yourself these questions as you decide which documents to take:

Will I need this to function immediately? For example, you will need money, so take your checkbook, ATM card and credit cards. Take your driver's license.

If power is out, ATMs may not be functioning. Cash can be your lifeline if you need to buy food, bargain for a generator or pay someone to move a tree off your house.

Keep your credit cards "in a very safe place," said Nayda Torres of the Florida Cooperative Extension Service at the University of Florida. And "give a lot of thought before using them," she said. If you are suddenly without a job because of a disaster, "how soon will you be able to repay that debt?"

Take health records, particularly if you require medication or have a chronic illness.

Will I need this immediately to prove I'm eligible for benefits? If you're already receiving food stamps, unemployment compensation or other benefits, take your card or other documentation that shows you're eligible.

Take your health-care provider ID card.

Many people in South Florida lost their jobs when Hurricane Andrew destroyed their workplaces. Take along a pay stub or other evidence of where you worked so you can file for unemployment, Torres suggested.

Take naturalization papers, your passport if you're not a U.S. citizen, or your green card.

Will I need this immediately to document an insurance claim? Pack all your insurance policies -- car, homeowner's or renter's, flood, health. Your local agent may not be available or may not have access to your records in case of a catastrophe. Make sure you have telephone numbers for your insurance carriers.

Does this have emotional value? Don't try to take all the photo albums, but pack a few baby pictures, snapshots of loved ones, or wedding photos. "Take a few things that remind you of the past," Torres said. "We're a product of the past. Anything that reminds us of it" is worth taking.

How hard is this to replace? You can get another copy of an appliance warranty. You likely won't need all your old bank statements or credit-card bills.

Everyone has lots of important papers -- birth, marriage and death certificates, Social Security cards, passports, stock and bond certificates, wills, old income-tax returns, bills of sale for major purchases, military records, retirement papers, auto titles. You may need few if any of these in the days immediately following a catastrophe. These, or copies of them, are the sorts of paperwork that should be placed in a safe deposit box or other secure location -- perhaps a desk drawer at work. You can always make duplicates to keep at home.

If you keep the originals at home, now's the time to sort through them, whittle them down to the essentials and put them in one place so they're ready to grab if you have to evacuate.

© Copyright 1998 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.