The thoughts of the Taylor Porter family are with all of those affected by the widespread flooding and damage across the Lake Charles and surrounding areas as a result of Hurricane Laura. According to NPR, Hurricane Laura could cause as much as $12 billion in damage, as hundreds of thousands remain without water and power as officials in the state work to fix downed lines, broken pipes and restore water pressure. As the recovery process begins, we want to share important information with you as you work to rebuild your businesses and homes.
Our Taylor Porter Lake Charles office attorneys – Rick, Joe, and Jud Norman, have relocated temporarily to our Baton Rouge office, and they are available via their email addresses, and via telephone through our main office line at 225-387-3221. They are also available at the following contact information:
Our Firm’s regional footprint allows for continued operations following Hurricane Laura, virtually without interruption, for our Lake Charles clients affected directly by Laura. All of our Taylor Porter attorneys remain available to help with any part of your hurricane claims process, and please remember there is a short time fuse on flood claims.
Our hearts and thoughts are with you, and we are deeply saddened by the death and destruction left in the wake of Hurricane Laura, but we also know that the resilient residents of the Lake Charles area will be committed to rebuilding the city, and we are committed to Lake Charles every step of the way in that rebuilding effort.
Please see several answers to many questions that you may have in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura, and please also note that over the next couple of days and weeks, we will publish several more alerts and stories to help you through this complex process. It is important for you to know the various options out there as you begin the recovery process.
State of Louisiana Launches Hurricane Laura Recovery Website
To help streamline information related to Hurricane Laura, the state has launched a new website, hurricanelaura.la.gov, to serve as an online hub for those impacted by the storm. Visitors to the site can find the latest disaster declarations, announcements from the Governor's Office, and guidance from state agencies such as the Louisiana Department of Health, the Department of Children and Family Services, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the Department of Environmental Quality.
SBA Encourages Hurricane Laura Victims to Apply for Disaster Aid
The U.S. Small Business Administration’s disaster recovery loan program is up and running for victims of Hurricane Laura and is accepting applications for its low-interest loan through a virtual outreach center.
Two different types of loans, Business Physical Disaster Loans and Economic Injury Disaster Loans, are available, but businesses should note that their eligibility is limited by their location.
- Business Physical Disaster Loans – Loans to businesses to repair or replace disaster-damaged property owned by the business, including real estate, inventories, supplies, machinery and equipment. Businesses of any size are eligible. Private, non-profit organizations such as charities, churches, private universities, etc., are also eligible.
- Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) – Working capital loans to help small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture, and most private, non-profit organizations of all sizes meet their ordinary and necessary financial obligations that cannot be met as a direct result of the disaster. These loans are intended to assist through the disaster recovery period.
Disaster loans up to $200,000 are available to homeowners to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate. Homeowners and renters are eligible for up to $40,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed personal property. Businesses can borrow up to $2 million. Interest rates can be as low as 3% for businesses, 2.75% for nonprofit organizations and 1.18% for homeowners and renters with terms up to 30 years.
Currently, as with FEMA's disaster assistance, a business' ability to apply for a loan program may be determined by their location. Impacted companies in Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson Davis, and Vernon Parishes are able to apply for both programs. Businesses in Acadia, Evangeline, Natchitoches, Rapides, Sabine, and Vermilion Parishes are eligible for EIDL loans only. The SBA has also launched a virtual Business Recovery Center specifically dedicated to help answer questions and provide guidance through the loan application process. The center can be contacted via phone at (800) 659-2955 or via email at FOCWAssistance@sba.gov. Staff will be available to provide assistance from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Monday-Sunday.
To register for FEMA federal disaster assistance, call 1-800-621-3362 or 1-800-462-7585. The FEMA disaster code is 4559. Register online at disasterassistance.gov. If you have insurance, contact your adjuster and begin the insurance process. Businesses and individuals may also obtain information and loan applications by calling the SBA’s Customer Service Center at 1-800-659-2955 (1-800-877-8339 for the deaf and hard-of-hearing), or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Loan applications can also be downloaded at www.sba.gov/disaster.
How to Apply for FEMA Assistance?
Documents and materials you need to apply:
- Social Security number
- Address of the location where the damage occurred (pre-disaster address)
- Current address
- Current telephone number
- Insurance information
- Total household annual income
- Routing and account number for your checking or savings account (this allows FEMA to directly transfer disaster assistance funds into your bank account).
- A description of your disaster-caused damage and losses
What Are the First Steps You Need to Take To Make an Insurance Claim?
Tips from Louisiana Department of Insurance
- Notify your insurer to start the claims process - Make sure you have the name of your insurance company, your policy number, and a telephone number and/or email address where you can be reached at all times. An adjuster should contact you within a few days of filing your claim.
- Document the damage - Separate damaged from undamaged property. Your adjuster will need evidence of the damage to your home and possessions to prepare your repair estimate. Take photographs of all of the damaged property, including discarded objects, structural damage, and standing floodwater levels. Make a list of damaged or lost items and include their date of purchase, value, and receipts, if possible. Officials may require disposal of damaged items so, if possible, place flooded items outside of the home.
- Complete a proof of loss to support your claim - Your adjuster will assist you in preparing a Proof of Loss (which is your sworn statement of the amount you are claiming including necessary supporting documentation) for your official claim for damages. A Proof of Loss can be many things, but must contain the specific details set forth in the Standard Flood Insurance Policy. You'll need to file your Proof of Loss with your insurance company within 60 days of the flood. This document substantiates the insurance claim and is required before the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) or insurance company can make payment.
How Do I Begin to Clean a Flood-Damaged Home?
- Avoid Additional Risks - If the flood was serious enough for you to leave your home, be sure you stay safe upon your return. The Federal Emergency Management Agency warns that you should check for any visible structural damage, such as warping, loosened or cracked foundation elements, cracks, and holes before entering the home and contact utility companies if you suspect damage to water, gas, electric, and sewer lines.
- Take Pictures - Before you remove any water or make any repairs, fully document the damage for your insurer by taking photos or video.
- Protect Your Health - Even if the water in your home is clear, it could be contaminated by sewage or household chemicals.
- Call Your Insurance Company - Since you should notify your insurer soon as possible after the flood, it’s a good idea to keep your insurance company and local agent’s phone number in your always-ready emergency bag.
- Find Out if You're in a Disaster Area - Once a region has been officially declared a “disaster area” by government authorities, property owners have access to increased resources, including public services to protect and remediate the area.
- Remove Water - Once you get the OK from your insurer to remove the water, use a sump pump, available from most hardware or home supply stores for $150 to $500, and a wet vac ($40 to $130).
- Mitigate Mold Damage - Mold can develop within 24 to 48 hours of a flood, so remove wet contents, including carpeting and bedding, as soon as possible.
- Secure the Property - As the homeowner, it’s your responsibility to secure the property so that no additional damage occurs. Put boards over broken windows and secure a tarp as protection if the roof has been damaged. Again, take photographs to prove to the insurance company that you have done everything possible to protect your home against further damage.
- If the home is habitable, take precautions to keep yourself and your family safe from injury. Use flashlights to move around dark rooms, for example. If the home isn’t habitable, don’t try to stay there. Move to a shelter or alternate location. Consult your insurer to find out what provisions the company will make for temporary housing while your home is being repaired.
What if My Car Was Affected by Flooding?
For vehicle owners affected by flooding: If you have comprehensive coverage through your vehicle policy, you should be covered for flooding damage. Your homeowner's policy does not cover your vehicle in a flood situation. Some federal disaster assistance programs may help with vehicles that are damaged by flood.
Flood Damage Claim Tips
- Call the claim in immediately. Time is of the essence in regards to a flood damage claim. Contact your insurance company’s claim service as soon as possible if your insurance agent’s office is not available. Especially in a catastrophic claim situation, you want to be first in line to get your claim processed.
- Get the vehicle dried out as soon as possible. The sooner your vehicle gets dried out the better your chances of avoiding a total loss situation. Do not try to dry your vehicle on your own. Be sure to contact the appropriate professionals.
Does Car Insurance Cover Flood Damage?
- Comprehensive insurance -- If your vehicle sustains water or flood damage, you can file a claim under your comprehensive insurance coverage, which may cover any type of damage to your car up to its actual cash value that's caused by natural disasters instead of accidents.
- Rental car reimbursement -- Depending on your situation, rental reimbursement coverage is a wise choice or a waste. If you have a second car or a way to get where you need to go without your car, you don't need rental coverage. But if you'd be left stranded for weeks while your car is being repaired, it may pay to have it. Rental reimbursement coverage, if included in your policy, pays you a certain amount of money per day or per week for a rental car to drive while your car is being repaired.
If you have comprehensive coverage through your vehicle policy, you should talk with your agent about whether your policy provides coverage for flooding damage. Your homeowner's policy ordinarily does not cover your vehicle in a flood situation. Some federal disaster assistance programs may help with vehicles that are damaged by flood.
(Click here for Proof of Loss Claim Forms)
Before Hiring a Contractor to Rebuild Your Home, What Do You Need to Do so You Don’t Get Scammed?
Link to Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors
Homeowners affected by the disaster need to be beware of “storm chasers” and out-of-town soliciting businesses & contractors. While not all storm chasers are scammers, they may lack the proper licensing for Louisiana businesses, offer quick fixes or make outlandish promises they cannot possibly deliver.
The Better Business Bureau offers the following tips for victims of the flooding:
- Get at least three (3) estimates. Get quotes in writing, don’t accept estimates over the phone, and be wary of very low estimates. They could set up a “bait and switch” tactic.
- Get a written contract. Make sure it specifies the price, the work to be done and who will do it, the amount of liability insurance coverage maintained by the contractor, and a time frame.
- Resist high-pressure sales. Some storm chasers use tactics such as the “good deal” you’ll get only if you hire the contractor on the spot. Be pro-active in selecting a contractor and re-active to sales calls on the phone or door-to-door pitches. Disaster victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor.
- Be especially careful of door-to-door contractors. Many municipalities require a solicitation permit if sales people go door-to-door. Ask for identification. Check their vehicle for a business name, phone number and Louisiana license plate.
- Know your rights and responsibilities. Check with your city officials to see what permits contractors need to work on your property. Check with your insurance carrier to make sure your liability insurance covers falls or injuries to contractors.
- Don’t pay for the job in advance. Be wary of any contractor who demands full or half payment upfront. Insist that payments be made to the company, not to an individual.
- Pay by credit card, if possible. This may provide you with additional protection if there’s a problem.
- While most contractors abide by the law, be careful allowing someone you do not know to inspect your home damage. An unethical contractor may actually create damage to get work.