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Ahead of Isaac: Your Financial Considerations

Ahead of Isaac: Your Financial Considerations

At the time of this writing, Tropical Storm Isaac is nearing hurricane strength. It’s already wreaked havoc in Haiti and Cuba and is now bearing down on the Florida keys. Its stop after that looks like the Alabama/Mississippi/Louisiana area – in other words, the northern Gulf Coast. The impact will affect millions in the southeast U.S.

What many who do not live in this region often find surprising is the difficulty of taking care of business after a tropical system makes landfall. The little things we all take for granted is often not available for days or weeks. So, as all eyes are on Isaac, here are a few tips and resources that will significantly affect millions of Americans – especially if they’re in the target zone.

First Things First

The first thing that usually happens is electricity goes and it’s not simply knocked out for an hour or two, it’s widespread and it takes awhile for utility companies to re-establish power. Often, power lines and power poles are down. In fact, it’s not surprising to find a light pole yards or even miles from where it was once erected. Trees are uprooted and fall on lines and of course there are always problems associated with standing water and live wires.

This means access to ATM machines and fuel pumps is non-existent. It’s also why officials always encourage those who might be impacted to prepare ahead of time.

Pull Cash Soon

If you’re in the line of fire, the time to pull cash out of the bank is now. In fact, the northern gulf coast was put under a hurricane watch on Sunday morning. A watch is a signal to get the bases covered now before the weather begins deteriorating. Fill your automobiles because the fuel pumps won’t work if the power’s out. Not only that, but gas lines become very long as a tropical system comes closer. It’s not at all uncommon for people to wait an hour or longer to fill their cars, especially if they’re going to evacuate.

Plan of Action

Most families who have called this region of the country “home” for any length of time usually always have their own checklists designed. For those who might not have experienced a hurricane, it can be very overwhelming. Things like insurance policies, legal paperwork, financial contracts and paperwork, birth certificates and other important documents must be located and gathered. If you’re evacuating, bring those papers with you. If you plan on riding the storm out, at least have an idea of where those documents are filed. You might even consider placing them in a sealed plastic container – even a gallon size Ziploc can help, especially if you’re in a flood-prone area.

Aside from the official government agencies and their recommendations, this writer calls the southeast home and has weathered Hurricanes Camille, Fredric, Elena, Georges and Katrina, along with countless tropical storms. Here are some of the more detailed considerations:

Assume Nothing

Don’t assume the storm is in and out within a few hours and everything goes back to normal. Even if a convenience store or grocery store is open, odds are, they’re open as a community service, but they likely won’t have electricity, which means you can’t swipe your debit or credit card. It also means the gas pumps won’t be working. It’s cash only for awhile. “I’ll fill my car up once the lines have gotten shorter after the storm passes” is a huge mistake. The lines are long now because there won’t be access after the storm. Assume nothing. Same thing goes for gas for generators. Now’s the time to fill those tanks.

Contrary to popular belief, ATMs do run out of money, especially when a storm nears. Bank employees have families and homes to protect too. Get your cash out early. Don’t assume you can write a check, because despite the heightened alert and the compassion of neighbors helping neighbors, there will be businesses that won’t take a check if they can’t approve them via their processing services. Again, it all comes down to a lack of phone and electricity services.

Most of the time, following a natural disaster, contacting your credit card company, satellite company, mortgage company, etc. will ensure you’re able to temporarily change your payment schedule. Often, creditors will even allow you to delay a payment. Following Hurricane Katrina, many banks, credit card companies and insurers rushed into the affected areas and were willing to work with their customers as they began the very long task of rebuilding their lives.

NHC Recommendations

The National Hurricane Center also makes these recommendations:

  • Listen to the radio or TV for information.
  • Secure your home, close storm shutters and secure outdoor objects or bring them indoors.
  • Turn off utilities if instructed to do so. Otherwise, turn the refrigerator thermostat to its coldest setting and keep its doors closed.
  • Turn off propane tanks
  • Avoid using the phone, except for serious emergencies.
  • Moor your boat if time permits.
  • Ensure a supply of water for sanitary purpose such as cleaning and flushing toilets. Fill the bathtub and other larger containers with water.
  • Find out how to keep food safe during and after and emergency.

Finally, keep in mind that cell towers are often down, too, due to the high winds. It’s not at all uncommon for cell phone services to fail big. If it’s not the winds bringing the towers down, then it’s the overload that many services simply can’t handle.

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