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Flood insurance: usually a good idea

Strong storms and the threat of hurricanes are part of life in Florida. Homeowners are wise to be sure their homeowner's insurance covers damage from wind, rain and floods.

"The best thing you can do . . . is check your homeowner's policy and see if it's up to date in terms of coverage," said Jeff Moree, a spokesman for Allstate in St. Petersburg. "Make sure you feel like the amount the house is insured for is the amount you think it'd take to rebuild it if it's totally devastated."

Even if you don't live on the water, consider buying flood insurance, Moree advised. "Your regular homeowner's policy does not cover flood damage, and there are plenty of low spots in Pinellas County that are susceptible to flooding. In most storms, that's where the major damage comes from _ high water." Although flood insurance rates are administered by the National Flood Insurance Program, virtually any agent can write a flood policy.

Probably the best kind of homeowner's policy to purchase is one with a "replacement cost" option. That means that if property is lost through one of the perils covered on your policy, the insurance company will replace each item with one "of like kind and quality."

If your policy covers only "actual cash value," the insurance will figure replacement cost for an item, then deduct a standard depreciation factor from it. That means that you could end up getting only $500 to replace a couch that originally cost $800.

Cars and other vehicles are not covered in a home insurance policy, even if they're parked outside your house when a storm hits.

Making a visual or written inventory of the belongings covered by your homeowner's policy is useful. "We recommend that you walk through the house with a video camera," Moree said. "Stand in the middle of each room and do a slow 360-degree circle." Documenting "big ticket" items such as TVs, stereos and jewelry is particularly important.