Fact Checked

Your next steps after Hurricane Florence

A wall of sandbags holds back floodwaters.Image: A wall of sandbags holds back floodwaters.
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Hurricane Florence made landfall on the North Carolina and South Carolina coasts Thursday night and is expected to continue dumping torrential rain over both states through the weekend.

Weather experts predict that residents in coastal states as far north as New Jersey could see damaging winds and significant coastal flooding.

A National Weather Service spokesperson called Florence “the storm of a lifetime” that could bring “unbelievable damage” because of wind, storm surge and flooding.

However severe the storm — and the damage it brings — Florence won’t last forever. When it ends, Americans directly affected by the disaster will look for ways to begin the recovery process.

Your next steps

If you’re affected by Florence — or any other natural disaster — you can take steps to begin recovering once the danger has passed. Remember, if you’ve been evacuated, you should not return to your home until authorities have said it’s safe to do so.

  • Assess damage to insured property. Notify insurance companies as soon as possible so you can begin the claims process. Taking video or pictures could help document the damage.
  • Assess your financial situation. If you’ll be out of work because of storm damage or need to pay to repair damage that insurance won’t cover, consider whether it’s time to dip into your emergency fund. If you don’t have an emergency fund and know you’ll have trouble paying your bills for a while, contact your creditors as soon as possible. Explain the situation and work with them to agree on a payment plan you can manage as you recover.
  • Ask for help. You may have heard from concerned family and friends in far-off places as the hurricane approached. If you find you need help, don’t be embarrassed to ask for it — especially from loved ones who offered assistance before the storm.
  • Apply for aid. In addition to the Red Cross and local relief agencies, you may be eligible for assistance from some national groups too. DisasterAssistance.gov has a searchable database of FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers where you might be able to find help.

Government efforts to help

On Sept. 10, the White House declared a state of emergency in South Carolina and ordered federal assistance to help state, local and tribal disaster response efforts. The declaration opens the door for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to send equipment and resources to impacted areas.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency Sept. 8. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper had already done so Sept. 7. Additionally, Cooper temporarily lifted a limit on the number of hours trucks and heavy vehicles can travel through the state in an effort to help farmers harvest and transport their crops ahead of the storm.

FEMA also offers individual disaster assistance. In order to get FEMA help, you must be in an area designated as a disaster area by the president. And if you live in a presidentially declared disaster area, you might be able to take a federal income tax deduction for some of your uninsured losses.

How relief organizations can help

When disaster strikes, relief organizations across the country mobilize to help victims.

The Red Cross announced Monday that it had moved relief supplies and equipment into the areas at risk from Florence. The organization has four chapters in South Carolina and 13 in North Carolina through eastern North Carolina and greater Carolinas region chapters.

Local relief organizations, including some as far away as Wisconsin, were also preparing to provide aid to people affected by Hurricane Florence.

What to do if you want to help

Even if you’re not directly affected by Hurricane Florence and don’t know anyone who is, you might feel compelled to help.

Be careful, however, because natural disasters can also bring out the worst in people. Individuals or groups posing as legitimate aid organizations may solicit your money, only to keep some or all of your donation for themselves. So it’s important to ensure the organization you’re donating to is legitimate.

Charity Navigator has compiled a list of organizations it says are highly rated and are planning to aid Florence victims. Its list includes recognizable names like the American Red Cross, the United Way (Alamance County chapter) and Operation USA.

You can also monitor local media — including newspapers, radio and TV — for information on local aid organizations, their activities and their needs following the storm.

Finally, if you’re unsure of an organization’s charitable status, you can check it out through the IRS website. The Tax Exempt Organization Search tool allows you to comb through the IRS database by organization name, city, state and country to learn more about a group’s tax-exempt status. The information you get from the tool can help confirm a charity’s legitimacy — and help ensure that you can take a charitable deduction for your generosity when you file your 2018 tax return next year.

About the author: Evelyn Pimplaskar is Credit Karma’s tax editor. With nearly 30 years of experience in media, marketing, public relations and journalism, Evelyn’s written about nearly everything – from newspaper accounts of salacious … Read more.