Officials offer tips for flood cleanup

COVINGTON - The flood of 2009 caused an estimated $250 million in damage across the state, and much of it may not be covered by insurance, according to Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine.

"As the weather over the past few days has shown, purchasing flood insurance is an important consideration for Georgia consumers, even if you think a flood is unlikely in your area," Oxendine said. "Twenty-five percent of flood claims occur in areas considered medium or low-risk for floods."

Flood coverage can be purchased from a local insurance agent in most Georgia cities and counties, and is federally backed by the National Flood Insurance Program.

Flood insurance is available for up to $250,000 for damage to your home. A standard flood policy will cover the basic structure of a home as well as the furnace, water heater, air conditioner, floor surfaces and debris cleanup.

Flood coverage for up to $100,000 in damage to contents of the home can also be purchased. Flood coverage of up to $500,000 is available for non-residential buildings and their contents.

Flood insurance can be purchased regardless of whether property is inside a floodplain. Flood insurance policies typically go into effect 30 days after the policy is purchased.

For general questions, call Oxendine's Consumer Services Division at 404-656-2070 or toll-free at 1-800-656-2298. Calls are taken from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Only about 9 percent of Georgians in single-family homes carry flood insurance, according to the Georgia Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner.

In low-risk areas, premiums run about $200 to $400 per year. Premiums increase for high-risk areas.

For those who will be doing some cleanup on their own, the Insurance Commissioner's Office offers the following suggestions:

· Begin the drying-out process by opening windows and using large fans and dehumidifiers. However, do not use the air-conditioner, which can spread mold spores.

· Begin the cleanup as soon as practical, either personally or by contacting a professional. Be sure to get any wet carpet out of the house, including the padding. Mold will start quickly in warm, humid conditions. Use a solution of bleach and water to clean and disinfect flooded areas.

· If you have flood insurance, document the damage to substantiate your claim. Make sure to take photos. Coordinate with your insurance agent to get a restoration company to dry, clean and decontaminate everything affected.

Unfortunately, times of crisis can bring out the worst in some people, so the Home Builders Association of Georgia has provided the following signs that a contractor could be trying to take advantage:

· They say a contract won't be necessary.

· They ask you to pay for the entire job up front or pay cash to a salesperson instead of a check or money order to a company.

· They use scare tactics, intimidation or threats.

· They say you've been chosen as a demonstration project at a special low price.

· They say a certain price is only good if you sign a contract today.

· The contractor won't give you references or you cannot locate references.

· You can't verify the contractor's address or business license.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.

SideBar: For help

Helpful Web sites and phone numbers for those with flood damage:

· Georgia Insurance Commissioner's Consumer Services Division: www.gainsurance.org;

404-656-2070 or toll-free at 1-800-656-2298

· FEMA Flood Resources: www.fema.gov

· GEMA: www.gema.state.ga.us

· National Flood Insurance Program: www.floodsmart.gov or 1-800-427-4661

· Verify a contractor's license at https://secure.sos.state.ga.us/myverification/

· Find a contractor by contacting your local homebuilders association: www.hbag.org/membershipmap.asp; Newton County Homebuilders Association: 770-786-3333