How to survive natural disasters

Protect your family and your home from the most common disasters.

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Mother nature can wreak havoc on your home through storms, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and droughts. No state is immune, and with disasters happening year round, it’s a good idea to prepare yourself.

Storms

There are many types of disturbances that fall under the category of storm. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Tornadoes
  • Thunderstorms
  • Hail storms
  • Wind storms
  • Dust storms
  • Blizzards
  • Sandstorms
  • Ice storms

What damage can a storm cause?

Even your average thunderstorm can have devastating effects on your home and property. For example, heavy winds could send the nearest tree branch careening into the side of your house, breaking windows or worse. Other ways storms can damage your home include:

  • Direct damage to buildings and contents
  • Flooding
  • Erosion
  • Landslides and other land movements
  • Water damage, particularly with a leaky roof
  • Power outages and surges

How can I protect myself from storm damage?

Storms affect every US state, so no matter where you are in the country, it pays to protect yourself from the effects of storms. Some ways you can do this include:

  • Clear your gutters. Blocked gutters can cause water to build up, overflow and cause water damage.
  • Trim the trees. Make sure to clear the branches that are in close proximity to your home — and remove any trees that are dead or unstable.
  • Secure loose items. Heavy winds could send loose items like deck chairs through the nearest window.
  • Check your insurance. Insurance providers don’t always cover every type of storm damage. For example, many policies cover damage from water runoff, but exclude flood damage.

Compare home insurance to cover natural disasters

Name Product Storm & water backup Valuable property Enhanced rebuild Homeshare coverage Available states
Hippo home insurance
AL, AZ, CA, CO, GA, IL, IN, MD, MN, MS, MO, NV, NM, OH, PA, SC, TN, TX, UT, WI
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Kin home insurance
AL, FL, GA, TX
Get coverage fast with policies designed to protect coastal homes.
Progressive home insurance
All 50 states
Protect your home and auto insurance with Progressive to save a bundle.
Allstate home insurance
All 50 states
Protect your home and belongings and save even more by bundling insurance with Allstate.
Liberty Mutual home insurance
All 50 states
Invest in affordable insurance that protects your home and your property from damage no matter where you live.
Gabi home insurance
Gabi home insurance
All 50 states
Get free quotes from top insurers for the exact coverage you need in minutes.
Geico home insurance
All 50 states
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Policygenius home insurance
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Tornadoes

Tornadoes are most common in the central part of the country and are characterized by their destructive winds that can reach speeds of up to 260 mph.

What damage can a tornado cause?

The damage caused by a tornado is generally the same as what you would see with a rainstorm or thunderstorm, but on steroids. Flying debris carried by the high winds can cause property damage, injuries and even death.

How can I protect myself from a tornado?

Follow all of the steps you would take to protect yourself from a regular storm, plus:

  • Have a plan. Before the storm arrives, plan how you, your family and your pets will stay safe. Move to the strongest part of your home, such as the basement or an internal hallway, and stay away from windows.
  • Prepare a storm kit. Include first-aid supplies, a torch, batteries, candles, matches, water, non-perishable food, blankets and a battery-powered radio.
  • Secure large items. Bring as much as possible into your garage or shed, if you have one, or into the house if necessary.
  • Reduce risk of fire. Unplug electrical items and be prepared to switch off the power if needed.
  • Check your insurance. Check how your homeowners insurance covers damage from tornadoes — including subsequent damage from flooding or rainwater runoff..

Floods

A flood occurs when a large body of water, such as a lake or a river, overflows beyond its limits. This differs from rainwater runoff, although sometimes the two can happen in tandem and the source of the water can become murky. Naturally, flooding occurs after a storm or heavy rainfall, adding to the damage.

What damage can a flood cause?

Floods can cause extensive damage to homes, property and persons, including:

  • Structural damage to the home
  • Ruined carpet, furniture, appliances, electronics and other household items
  • Ruined cars
  • Uprooted patios, walkways and gardens
  • Drowning
  • Electrocution

How can I protect myself from a flood?

Preparing for a flood has many similarities to preparing for a storm. However, floods increase the risk of needing to evacuate should the water rise high enough. To prepare for a flood:

  • Have an evacuation plan. Pay attention to the local news to identify if you’ll need to evacuate, and leave as soon as possible after evacuation orders are given especially if you live near roads that are likely to flood. Make sure to pack medications, clothes, toiletries and other essential items in advance.
  • Buy or make sandbags. Place these around openings where water is likely to enter the home, such as external doors and air vents. You can put these into your toilet bowl and on top of drains to prevent sewage from escaping.
  • Be cautious around flood water. Do not attempt to drive or walk through flood water. It takes less water than you think to carry you or your car away. Do not swim through flood water, or you could get sick or be electrocuted.
  • Check your insurance. Homeowners insurance generally won’t cover floods. You’ll need to take out a separate flood insurance policy through the National Flood Insurance Program.

Hurricanes

Hurricanes are one of the most dangerous natural disasters in the US — and the most expensive. They’re common on the coasts, particularly along the Eastern seaboard. They combine the high winds of tornadoes with the water damage and flooding of torrential rainfall.

What damage can a hurricane cause?

Hurricanes combine the high winds of tornadoes with the water damage and flooding of torrential rainfall. Homes can be completely or partially destroyed, and in some cases entire cities can suffer massive damage, injuries and even fatalities. Common types of damage include:

  • Structural damage to homes and businesses
  • Electrical damage
  • Damage to contents of the home, including furniture, appliances, electronics and other household items
  • Flooding
  • Complete loss of a home

How can I protect myself from a hurricane?

If your home is in the path of a hurricane, the most important thing to do is to keep track of the news and follow all official orders — including evacuating if necessary. To stay safe:

  • Have an evacuation plan in place. Pay attention to local news to understand if you need to evacuate, and pack an evacuation bag with medications, clothes, toiletries and other essential items that you can grab at a moment’s notice.
  • Put up hurricane shutters. You can also board up your windows if you don’t have hurricane shutters. And if you’re unable to secure your house, or you live in a potentially dangerous home or area, go to the nearest hurricane shelter.
  • Stock your home. Keep extra water, nonperishable food, medications, first aid supplies and a battery-powered radio in your home in case you need to wait out a storm.
  • Check your insurance. Read your homeowners insurance policy to find out if you’re covered, and consider taking out hurricane insurance if necessary. Some policies will cover damage from hurricane winds but not from flooding, which could leave you severely underinsured.

Drought

A prolonged period without rain can be dangerous to both people and buildings — and is connected with other disasters, like fires.

What damage can a drought cause?

A drought’s effects aren’t as easy to pinpoint as they are with other natural disasters, because the build-up takes longer and droughts don’t cause as much property damage. But there are many negative effects a drought could have on your quality of life:

  • Water conservation requirements mean you might not be able to water your lawn or garden.
  • Worse conditions could mean that you have to ration water for essential activities like bathing and drinking.
  • Devastation of a region’s crops could lead to higher prices for meat and produce.
  • Lack of water for sanitation purposes could lead to an outbreak of disease.
  • Dry conditions could lead to wildfires.
  • Lack of electric to hydroelectric dams could affect the electricity supply.

How can I protect myself from a drought?

  • Understand where your water comes from. Find out how if you’re at risk of running out of water if there’s a drought, and stock up on drinking water if necessary.
  • Conserve water. Fix leaky faucets, turn off the water while you’re brushing your teeth and install water-saving devices or low-flow technologies in your faucets, shower heads and toilets.
  • Do some xeriscaping. Xeriscaping is a form of landscaping that reduces the need for supplemental water. It makes use of efficient irrigation and native flora to help you conserve water.
  • Work with your community. Individuals who work together to conserve water will be less likely to over-consume for selfish reasons.
  • Be prepared for fires. Droughts can significantly increase the likelihood of a forest fire. Have an evacuation plan in place and keep an emergency kit with food, water, medications and any other essentials ready to go.
  • Check your insurance. If you live in an area prone to drought, find out how your homeowners insurance covers wildfires.

Earthquakes

Earthquakes generally strike with little to no warning and are difficult, or even impossible, to accurately predict. They can happen anywhere at any time, but people who live in earthquake zones are at the highest risk for major earthquakes.

What damage can an earthquake cause?

Earthquakes can cause significant damage to both a home and its contents, including:

  • Structural damage to the home
  • Ruined carpet, furniture, appliances, electronics and other household items
  • Cracked foundations, concrete decks and patios and pools
  • Electrical damage
  • Difficulty getting around due to damaged and/or closed roads

How can I protect myself from an earthquake?

To protect yourself and your home from potential earthquakes:

  • Practice evacuating your home. Earthquakes can strike out of nowhere and quickly make it dangerous to stay inside a room or home full of potential hazards. Plan at least one way out of each room in the home and practice evacuating quickly.
  • Make a disaster kit. Include several days worth of food, water, medications and toiletries in case roads are closed.
  • Anchor heavy furniture. Bolt down shelves, television sets, refrigerators and anything else that could injure someone if it fell.
  • Get your home inspected. Cracks in your home’s foundation or ceiling could cause major damage during an earthquake.
  • Find out if you’re in a tsunami zone. If you are, find out what the evacuation route is and practice getting to higher ground so you know the route by heart.
  • Check your insurance. Your homeowners insurance may not cover earthquakes. If that’s the case, consider getting earthquake insurance.

Bottom line

Natural disasters have the potential to destroy a home and cause injuries quickly — and sometimes without warning. Find out what disasters are most likely to happen in your area and come up with a plan to keep yourself and your family safe. And to keep your home safe, compare homeowners insurance policies to find one that fits your needs.
Image source: Getty Images

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