What to do after a tornado

Is there tornado insurance?

The August 2009 tornado in Ontario left a toll of hundreds injured and one person dead. The damage to property is something that you need to know how insurance will help. If you have property insurance such as a homeowner's, tenants, or condominium unit policy then you need to be aware of what to do. Business insurance will deal with losses in a different manner.

First off, a tornado is often referred to as an Act of God. Yes, there is insurance coverage for the resulting wind and water damage.

Not all policies are alike. Hopefully you spent some time choosing the policy you have now. The type of coverage you have for the home and contents can vary. There can be limits and exclusions.

What is covered?

When an adjuster comes to see your damage they will be looking at how the damage occurred. The hail and wind damage is usually covered except for items such as your garden, trees and shrubs. The tree that fell on your house and caused damage to the contents will not be covered for the replacement of the tree but usually the contents it damaged will be considered.

If there is water damage in your house then it will be considered as to how it happened. If hail smashed a window and the water got in and ruined your hardwood floors then your claim is likely to go forward. Holes from hail in your roof and resultant water coming into your ceiling and down your walls is also likely covered.

Other types of water damage may not be covered by insurance. If you purchased sewer backup then the damage to your walls, floors and furnishings is covered. You may have purchased a limited amount and you may have a higher deductible.

One of the water damages that is not covered is due to overland flooding. This occurs when water has come into your home due to flash flooding. When we hear of the rivers overflowing the banks this is the type of water damage that is seen.

What do I do first?

You need to get your claim started with your insurance company. Get in touch with your agent, broker or directly to the insurer. Often adjusters are sent out to certain areas and you want to get on the list as soon as possible.

Be sure to respond to any contact from your adjuster. Be aware that there will be an initial attempt at contact. If could be a long while before you get a second attempt. If you get a message then phone the adjuster back right away!

Do not throw items away! Whatever is damaged you need to keep in garbage bags or make a pile somewhere as long as it is not a danger. You keep the freezer closed and hope the power comes back before items start to defrost.

Taking pictures is a good idea as long as it is safe for you to do so. The adjuster may bring in a team or immediately start to document the damaged items from your home. Making your own list is a good idea. Taking photographs can be useful later because the damaged items are going to be taken away.

You need to do what you can to limit further damage. This could be using a shop vacuum to suck up water or boarding up a smashed window. Keep track of your expenses and time spent. Be aware that your adjuster is the authority on what compensation you will receive so be conservative in your expenses. You may not get repaid for the money you spend.

I'm not sure I should be making a claim.

Do understand that if you are not sure that the damage is extensive enough to warrant a claim it is still a good idea to start the process. The adjuster will look at your situation and determine if repair or replacement is required.

If the damage is minor then you do not need to proceed further with the insurance. The adjuster will give you an expert opinion which you should be able to rely upon. You may even be able to do small repairs with confidence yourself. Wait for the opinion of the adjuster!

If your home does require repair then you will be looking for a reputable contractor. The insurance companies often have a list of preferred companies. These companies have been pre-approved and their work will come with certain guarantees. Talk to your adjuster about your choices. You may have someone in mind and want to get the work booked quickly.

What documents will I have to provide?

You will be required to provide reasonably accurate information regarding the contents that have been damaged or destroyed. You will need to estimate the year purchased and the purchase price. Be aware that depreciation can be applied. There is also a different payout for items that you do not replace vs. the items that you do go out and buy.

Hopefully you have an inventory record, receipts or other documents such as photographs or videos that will assist you in putting your list of items together. Be aware that this is an emotional time for you and it is often hard to think logically. Sometimes a family member can be helpful in listing contents of a destroyed room.

We can't stay here!

You may need some additional living expense coverage. If your home is not safe to live in now or while it is undergoing repair then you likely have some coverage for staying at a hotel or finding similar accommodation. It is best to get the approval from your adjuster before taking this step but again you need to protect your family. Be aware that the accommodation should be similar to the type of housing you had before the tornado struck.

The end result - insurance help

You paid insurance premiums for the protection you are now receiving. Be sure to ask questions and expect to work with your adjuster to achieve a fair settlement. It is going to be quite a bit of work to get to this point but with a willing attitude and lots of patience you should end up close to where you were at the time of loss.