More than 300 search-and-rescue officers are now fanning out over southwest Florida and are heading toward southeast Florida to assist in search and rescue efforts, according to Tom Gallagher, Florida’s State Fire Marshall.
In addition, Gallagher said the Department of Financial Services’ consumer assistance specialists and mobile response units have been dispatched to set up Tuesday in Naples, West Palm Beach and Miami to help hurricane victims begin the recovery process. Gallagher said consumers can also obtain assistance by calling the department’s Hurricane Hotline at 1-800-22-STORM from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“This hurricane inflicted widespread damage, and a lot of people will need immediate assistance,” Gallagher, who oversees the department, said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with our friends and neighbors who have been hit by the storm. The primary concern is the health and safety of those who are in the affected areas; then we will work to help them get resources to repair homes and businesses.”
The State Fire Marshal’s Office joined members of other state agencies on Saturday in Miami, Orlando and Tampa so they could be ready to move into affected areas as soon as the storm passes to begin search and rescue missions.
Other team members include representatives of the Fish and Wildlife Commission, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Law enforcement officers from the department’s Division of Insurance Fraud are also standing by to assist with law enforcement functions.
Noting most deaths and injuries happen in the aftermath of a storm, Gallagher offered the following suggestions to help residents stay safe:
* Use generators with extreme caution. Do not use them indoors or in garages. Keep them outdoors where fumes cannot enter the home and keep them dry. Do not refuel generators until they have a chance to cool off.
* Use flashlights instead of candles.
* Only repair property damage if it is safe to do so and avoid climbing trees and going onto roofs.
* Keep away from standing water and make sure children do not play near water. Deaths from drowning and electrocution are very common following storms.
Gallagher also provided the following tips and warnings to those with property damage:
* Beware of signing contracts with public adjusters. Public adjusters do not work for insurance companies or independent adjusting firms. Public adjusters contract with the policyholders to settle claims and are paid a percentage of any claim settlement.
* If available, use a credit card to finance emergency repairs and document all transactions. Your insurance policy allows you to make emergency repairs to prevent further damage to your home or its contents. Materials such as plywood, tarp and duct tape used to keep rain from entering your home are reimbursable as well as labor costs to complete repairs.
* Keep all receipts and take photographs of the damage, before and after repair, to submit with your claim.
* Beware of fly-by-night repair businesses. Hire licensed service and repair people. Beware of anyone offering to help after a storm who wants cash only. Call the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation at (850) 487-1395, or go to www.state.fl.us/dbpr to make sure contractors are licensed or to file a complaint.
* Beware of fraud. If you suspect insurance fraud, call the DFS Fraud Hotline toll-free at 1-800-378-0445.
* Immediately report property damage to your insurance agent and company. Your company will issue a special reference number for your claim, make sure you write it down. You will need to keep this number handy in all your dealings with the company. Your agent or company should arrange for a licensed insurance adjuster to visit your property and assess the damage.
* The additional living expense feature of homeowners policies pays some expenses for covered losses that leave homes so damaged that residents can’t live there during repairs. Keep all receipts during this period.
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