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Hurricane Irma: Information on filing insurance claims and seeking FEMA help

Debris surrounds a destroyed structure in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Wednesday in Big Pine Key. Anyone who suffered damage from hurricanes Harvey or Irma will be thankful if they have homeowners or windstorm coverage and flood insurance. But much work lies ahead. Filing claims for major damage can be a full-time job because you must document every loss and negotiate a fair settlement. Omissions and missteps you make can mean a lower payout. [Associated Press]
Debris surrounds a destroyed structure in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Wednesday in Big Pine Key. Anyone who suffered damage from hurricanes Harvey or Irma will be thankful if they have homeowners or windstorm coverage and flood insurance. But much work lies ahead. Filing claims for major damage can be a full-time job because you must document every loss and negotiate a fair settlement. Omissions and missteps you make can mean a lower payout. [Associated Press]
Published Sep. 14, 2017

Hurricane Irma is gone and if you're like thousands of other Floridians, you're about to file an insurance claim or seek federal help for the damage to your home. Here are some important links, phone numbers and tips for making the process as smooth as possible.

I'm not sure I have an insurance claim. Should I file one anyway? Yes, according to the head of one of Florida's largest insurers. "File a claim. It won't count against you," Security First Insurance founder and president Locke Burt told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Even if a claim is fairly minor — a broken window, for instance — and won't exceed a policyholder's annual hurricane deductible, you should still report that damage, Burt said. Why? Because we're not to the end of the hurricane season yet. If there's another hurricane this year, then together your claims from both storms might top your deductible and then you could be reimbursed.

Contact your property insurance company. You should call your insurance company first to avoid any companies attempting to scam you. The contact information should be on your insurance documents, but if it's not and you need help finding the company's website and claims phone number, click here. If you aren't sure where to start, or have questions about the claims process, call the Florida Department of Financial Service's insurance consumer hotline at 877-693-5236.

Take pictures. It is important to document all damaged property and belongings. A free smartphone app developed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners called "MyHome Scr.APP.book" is available to assist with photo documentation.

Am I eligible for federal assistance with my losses? Maybe. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's Individuals and Households Program provides financial help (up to $33,300) for housing needs (temporary housing, repair and replacement construction) and personal needs (medical services, replacement of household appliances, other household items).

• If you've got power and Internet access, you can register for disaster assistance online at DisasterAssistance.gov.

• Or on the FEMA Mobile App.

• Or by calling 800-621-3362 (FEMA). Applicants who use 711 or Video Relay Service may also call 800-621-3362. People who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability and use a TTY may call 800-462-7585. The toll-free numbers are open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET, seven days a week. Multilingual operators are available. Press 2 for Spanish and press 3 for other languages.

How soon can I get insurance money for my damage? It depends on how fast you file your claim. Insurance companies generally handle them first come, first served, so get yours in as quickly as you can. But don't expect instant results. Claims adjusters are still dealing with Hurricane Harvey in Texas. To get a financial toolkit for Irma victims from the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, click here.

• Before you hire a contractor, research the company on sites such as the Better Business Bureau to ensure the company is credible.

• Check a company or contractor's license on the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation's portal by clicking here.

Information from Times staff writers Craig Pittman and Malena Carollo was used in this report.

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