Storm damage? What to do after Hurricane Ian clears out of Central Florida

Remember to stay safe while checking damage

Hurricane Ian brought “unprecedented historic flooding” to Seminole County, with continued flash flood warnings on Thursday.

ORLANDO, Fla. – It’s Thursday, September 29, and if you’re reading this, you’re probably looking for some guidance in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

Ian rampaged through Florida as a strong Category 4 storm, leaving in its wake a slew of problems for homeowners. Everything from flooded homes and cars to downed trees and property damage await a bunch of us here in Florida. Here are some tips to quickly and safely get you and your family back on your feet.

Is it safe to assess?

Right off the bat, safety first. Many homeowners are eager to get back to their property to check for damage, but first things first: is it safe to travel?

“Stay put and wait until the all-clear from local authorities,” said News 6 Traffic Safety Expert Trooper Steve Montiero. “It makes no sense to put yourself in a dangerous situation in the immediate aftermath of a storm. When you put yourself in a dangerous situation, people like me and other first responders must dive in and help. While we’re helping you in a situation that could have been avoided, we’re not helping others who really need our aid.”

The biggest hazard in the wake of a storm: water. Remember: Turn Around, Don’t Drown. Six inches of fast-moving water can knock over the average sized adult; a foot of water is enough to move a car, and 2 feet of water will turn most SUVs and pickup trucks into uncontrollable floating mini barges.

And don’t drive around barriers: they’re there for a reason.

Standing water can be just as dangerous. Downed power lines in a body of water can lead to electrocution. When you wade through water, you could step on something unexpected and twist or break an ankle. Unchecked sewage floating in water can lead to disease. And if that’s not enough to sway you: snakes. They love to swim.

A street pole with traffic lights fell to the road along Orange Avenue in downtown Orlando as gusts from Hurricane Ian blew through the area.

Approach with caution

Got the all-clear? OK, now it’s time to carefully evaluate what you’re about to face. If you are looking at a damaged structure (home, barn, storage area, etc.) think about the things you might not be able to see. You’ll want to dive in and see what can be salvaged -- the problem with that is you might have no idea of what awaits.

Possible problems can be unsound structures, the aforementioned downed power lines and unsecured gas lines. Gas leaks are a whole ‘nother issue to think about, which is why we offer up these two bits of advice: don’t evaluate at night when you can’t properly see what you’re up against and never use an open flame (lighter, candle, tiki torch) to do evaluations.

The National Weather Service says if you must use something like a flashlight, just to be safe, turn it on before you enter the building (the battery could trigger a spark and ignite fumes).

Bottom line: call in a pro. Whether it’s your insurance company or a professional contractor, let them jump into action (they have the experience and know-how to properly evaluate).

What else?

Pictures, pictures, pictures. Most of us have smartphones; use the camera to take as many photos of damage as possible. Make sure your pictures are well lit, cover multiple angles, and use the same technique as photography students: start wide with an establishing picture, walk or zoom in closer for a medium shot, and finish off with a close up of the damage.

For those without insurance, the Federal Emergency Management Administration announced Thursday that hurricane survivors in Orange, Osceola, Polk and Seminole Counties could apply for assistance with losses caused by Ian. To apply, visit FEMA’s website here.

Looking for assistance:

Allstate: 800-255-7828

Citizens: 866-411-2742

Farmers: 888-327-6335

GEICO: 800-841-3000

Liberty Mutual: 800-225-2467

Nationwide: 800-421-3535

Progressive: 800-776-4737,

State Farm: 800-732-5246

Travelers: 800.252.4633

USAA: 800-531-8722

Federal Help:

American Red Cross: 800-733-2767

Disaster Assistance Improvement Program (DAIP): 800-462-7585

Federal Disaster Aid: 800-621-3362

FEMA: 800-621-3362

FEMA NFIP (National Flood Insurance Program): 877-336-2627

Florida SAIL (State Assistance Information Line): 800-342-3557

U.S. Small Business Administration: 800-659-2955

About the Author:

Donovan is WKMG-TV's executive producer of digital enterprise