09/21/13 8:00am
09/21/2013 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | South Jamesport homeowner Jennifer Giordano sorting through damaged items in the days following superstorm Sandy.

It’s never too early for area homeowners to prepare for the next big storm. So hear’s a guide to everything from choosing the right insurance coverage to setting up a generator.

Review your coverage

Atlantic hurricane season officially began June 1 and ends Nov. 30, and the busiest time of the season is just starting, weather officials said. Last season’s superstorm caused $18.75 billion in insured property losses across the Northeast, a figure that does not include damage covered by the National Flood Insurance Program, according to the Insurance Information Institute, an industry-funded nonprofit group.

Now, almost a year since Sandy ravaged the Northeast, many homeowners still find themselves paying for repairs that weren’t covered by insurance.

One of the first things homeowners should do to make sure they’re ready for this storm season is re-examine their policies, said Elizabeth Hanlon of Allstate in Riverhead.

“Understand what your policy covers,” she said.

Standard homeowner insurance policies cover damage due to fire, lightning, hail, explosions and theft, according to local agents. The policies do not cover flood damage, a major component of the most recent storm.

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Instead, all primary flood policies are underwritten through the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program, managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, explained Peter Sabat, senior partner at Neefus Stype Agency Inc. in Aquebogue.

A primary flood policy provides up to $250,000 of building coverage and $100,000 of contents coverage, subject to a chosen deductible, Mr. Sabat said.

A homeowner considering flood coverage should realize that there is a 30-day waiting period for a policy to take effect, unless a mortgage closing is involved, he said. So people who find themselves scrambling for generators, water and batteries in the run-up to a storm won’t also be able to quickly buy some flood insurance.

Neither standard homeowners policies nor the National Flood Insurance Program, however, cover flood damage to sewer systems, which can cause raw sewage to back up into homes. Ms. Hanlon recommends that homeowners who have experienced such problems before purchase sewer backup coverage as a separate policy or as an addition to the standard policy.

Another potential consideration for homeowners is that if a home is badly damaged in a storm, repairs or rebuilding will have to adhere to updated building codes. Standard insurance policies don’t take into account the increased costs usually associated with conforming to revised codes, Ms. Hanlon said. For example, an older house may need to meet updated electrical codes, she said. Customers can purchase what’s called an ordinance or law endorsement, another add-on, to cover the costs of updating to meet new requirements.

And residents shouldn’t forget to consider contents of the home.

Mr. Sabat and Ms. Hanlon both recommend that homeowners inventory their possessions, everything from televisions to jewelry and furniture, and write down all purchase prices, dates, serial numbers and receipts, according to the Insurance Information Institute website, iii.org. There are now several apps available for smartphones that can help homeowners in this task. Both iii.org and allstate.com provide links to these applications.

Ms. Hanlon said homeowners could also simply throw receipts in a fireproof box, as long as they do so consistently after purchases.

Stock up on essentials

With the right insurance in place, homeowners should head to the hardware store before the last minute to get storm necessities and the proper tools and materials for post-storm cleanup (and to avoid lines at the stores!)

Aside from a radio, flashlights and batteries, “the number one priority is the generator,” said Chris McBride, store manager at Carl’s Equipment and Supply Inc. in Riverhead. Most homes in the area need around 5,500 watts he said.

Make sure a generator is kept outside but protected from the elements, he said, and that the muffler is not facing the inside of the house — the exhaust can be deadly.

For gasoline-powered generators, homeowners should keep at least 10 gallons of gas on hand, he said.

Dead trees or limbs should be trimmed before the storm, to help minimize wind damage, said Chris Mohr, owner of Chris Mohr landscaping in Cutchogue.

“Trees are the most dangerous thing during a hurricane,” he said.

You also want to put away or tie down anything, from lawn furniture to barbecues, that could get swept up and blown into the home, he said.

After it’s over

Once the storm has passed, assess the home for any damage, but be sure to call an insurance provider before making any repairs, Ms. Hanlon, the insurance agent, said.

“You’ve got to know the steps you need to take when making a claim,” she said. “You don’t just start fixing things.”

You can make emergency repairs to prevent further damage, such as removing a tree from a home, she said. But homeowners should call insurance providers for an assessment right away. People who took to fixing things immediately after Sandy sometimes found they got less money from their claims than they might have, she said.

When it comes to the yard, water anything that may have been hit by salt water, keeping in mind that salt spray can make its way inland in high winds, Mr. Mohr said.

“The salt water kills the roots, he said.

He recommends applying gypsum, which draws out the salt, “and you may have to use it a couple of times,” he said.

White pines are very vulnerable to damage from salt spray, he said. Try to rinse off the spray as soon as possible to prevent browning. Often, the spray has only hit the needles and not the roots, so the tree can be saved – but it may take up to a year to see improvement, he said.

cmiller@timesreview.com

05/02/13 12:00pm
05/02/2013 12:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Eastern Concrete workers prepare Sandra Ciricione’s Oaks Avenue home in Flanders for a new foundation Friday.

Aquebogue resident Cecily Jaffe is finally regaining some sense of normalcy. She returned to her house three weeks ago, but is stilling trying to make it feel like home.

“I just got my bed two days ago,” she said.

Hurricane Sandy caused $100,000 worth of damage to her Harbor Road home. Floodwaters also swept away half of her belongings, including furniture, family photos and other items she said could never be replaced. Ms. Jaffe, who owns Cecily’s Love Lane Gallery in Mattituck, is now in the process of rebuilding her life in the cottage she’s called home for decades.

Like many homeowners with insurance, Ms. Jaffe did not receive federal grant money for reconstruction. She was only eligible to receive Federal Emergency Management Agency grant money for temporary housing. In the interim, Ms. Jaffe was forced to wait weeks for her insurance check, causing construction delays. She moved five times to different area hotels and apartments before work was completed on her home.

“I’m still living as if I have to move tomorrow,” she said.

North Fork Sandy victims received a low amount of federal aid in comparison to other areas in Suffolk County. According to the FEMA, 564 households in Riverhead Town received $111,000 in federal aid, for an average of $197 per affected household. In Southold Town, 451 households received $366,000 from FEMA, or $811 on average per household. In comparison, Lindenhurst’s 4,000 eligible homeowners received more than $22 million, averaging out to $5,500 per household.

In all, more than $73.5 million in FEMA funding was provided to homeowners in Suffolk County to mitigate storm damage. Less than one percent of that was awarded to the North Fork, according to FEMA figures.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Cecily Jaffe hangs a print by North Fork artist Rob White from her Love Lane Gallery in Mattituck.

FEMA aid was awarded on a case-by-case basis, said FEMA regional director for Suffolk County, John Mills. The amount awarded to individual homeowners varied according to the severity of the damage and whether the homeowner had flood insurance, he said. No aid is provided for a person’s second home.

A spokesman for Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said Mr. Bishop’s office has been inundated with calls from homeowners who have been struggling to pay household bills since Sandy, with many requesting assistance with mortgage modifications or forbearance, which is an agreement between a borrower and lender that delays foreclosure

Greenport resident Jean Eckhardt’s Pipes Cove area home needed $15,000 in repairs after wind damaged the roof and floodwaters poured into the basement.

“I was the first person in line when I heard FEMA officials were going to be at Town Hall,” she said. “They only gave me a little.”

Ms. Eckhardt, who did not have flood insurance, received $1,500 in federal aid.

Her homeowner’s insurance covered some of the expenses, but she needed to pay for the majority of the reconstruction herself, she said.

“I had to eat most of it,” Ms. Eckhardt said. “I was hoping for more, but I am grateful for what I got.”

Sandy victims now face another costly consequence of the storm. Many North Folk homeowners will need to raise their houses — or face rising flood insurance premiums.

FEMA now requires homeowners who receive federal funding to rebuild their homes in accordance to the National Flood Insurance Program.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Cecily Jaffe moved back to her Sandy-ravaged Aquebogue home just two weeks ago.

“There are so many laws coming out that people are not being made aware of,” said Flanders resident Dhonna Goodale.

Ms. Goodale, her husband and two young children were displaced for three months after the storm. The family received no FEMA assistance, footing the bill for home repairs before finally receiving an insurance check six weeks ago, she said.

“There were fish swimming in our basement,” she said of the family’s experience during Sandy. “Now, during high tide the water floods our driveway.”

The Goodales are now wondering what to do next at the 135-acre estate.

“Should we raise the house? Should we move it? We don’t have a clue what do right now,” she said. “We need answers [from the federal government].”

Flanders resident Sandra Cirincione is in the process of raising her house in the Bayview Pines neighborhood without any FEMA assistance.

Seven inches of floodwater poured into her first floor during Sandy, she said.

“No one told me I needed to raise my home,” Ms. Cirincione said. “I decided to do it anyway. I never want to go through this again. You learn a few things when things like this happen.”

Flood insurance covered much of her home’s interior reconstruction, but that work has come to a halt until the raising work is completed.

She’s living at a friend’s house in Westhampton and hoping to return to Flanders by mid-summer.

Mr. Bishop’s office is working to inform homeowners about programs available for raising their homes. The office has a full-time caseworker to help those affected by Sandy to access relief and benefits. Anyone in need of such assistance can call (631) 289-6500.

cmurray@timesreview.com