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Tips For Filing An Insurance Claim And Making Repairs After The Storm

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Hundreds if not thousands of homes and businesses have been damaged or destroyed from Irene around the Tri-State, either by wind, downed trees or the rising flood waters.

Homeowners are now picking up the pieces but it could be a long road to recovery.

Although the hurricane-turned-tropical storm didn't cause as much destruction as initially feared, it touched communities in a dozen states and left an estimated $3 billion to $7 billion of mangled siding, downed trees and worse in its wake.

SEE: User-Submitted Pictures Of Irene's Wrath | Irene's Aftermath From Chopper 880

After the storm, it's important that homeowners take specific steps to make sure their insurance claims and repairs are done properly.

If you had to evacuate, hopefully you put a copy of your homeowners policy in your emergency kit. You'll need the policy number to begin the claims process.

But if you can't provide it, your insurance company should be able to call up the number in its systems.

If you have your policy in hand, check to make sure you're covered for hurricane damage and what your hurricane deductible is. These amounts apply only to hurricane-related damage and typically range from 1 percent to 5 percent of the insured value of the home.

Homeowners will have to cover any deductible before collecting on a claim.

To file a claim, you'll need to explain what sort of damage your house sustained.

Once it's safe to return to your home, inspect it for damage and make sure to take pictures of the damage for your insurance company.

A man takes a photo of a fallen tree
A man takes a photo of a fallen tree August 29, 2011 in Queens. (Photo credit: DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

Experts also say to be careful and wear protective clothing when surveying damage inside a building and make notes or voice recordings to go with any pictures.

Don't throw away damaged items until an insurance adjuster sees them. Items that are unsafe can be photographed and discarded if necessary.

Insurers expect homeowners to protect their property from further damage whenever possible. That means you should cover any broken windows and make any other temporary repairs that are safe to make.

During this process, keep a list of any steps you've taken and a complete list of the supplies you've purchased. Your insurance company will reimburse you for any reasonable expenses to make temporary repairs.

Officials say you shouldn't have any permanent repairs done until your insurance company has inspected the property.

If you can't go back to your home, make sure to keep receipts for any hotel rooms, restaurant and any associated expenses.

For more information about inspecting your property and filing a claim, click here.

Many insurers have toll-free hotlines to accept initial filings and most will also allow customers to start a claim online. A number of companies offer smart phone apps that can get the process rolling, as well.

Many insurance companies do have a deadline for filing claims from a disaster, so residents should contact their insurers quickly.

"Our priority is the most severe claims first,'' said Dick Leudke, a spokesman for State Farm Insurance.

State Farm, Allstate and other insurers placed claims adjusters and other staff members on standby before the storm, ready to respond to the hardest-hit areas. None could say how long it would take to process a claim, because damage assessments are still underway.

The New York State Insurance Department disaster recovery operations is also  being sent to areas hit hard by Irene.

The Department's Mobile Command Center will be on site to help property owners file claims and contact their insurance companies.

The state is also offering a help hotline at 800-339-1759 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

FEMA offers assistance programs for property owners hit hard by the storm. The various programs include grants for individuals whose insurance doesn't cover property damage to free legal assistance to disaster victims.

For a full list, click here.

Once you've filed  your claim, the cleanup begins.

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice wants residents to be careful when hiring contractors to clear trees or do repair on homes or businesses.

Rice said to make sure any contractor you hire is licensed and says don't sign anything or give any money until you know your contractor is licensed.

She says to always ask a contractor to show you their license and certificate of insurance once they arrive and always get a written estimate and contract that spells out exactly what repairs will be done, what materials will be used and how much it will cost before any work starts. You'll need to provide these estimates later on to your insurance company.

Rice also warns to be weary of scams and use common sense when hiring anyone to do work on your property.

For more information, click here.

Many insurance policies don't cover flood-related damage. In almost all cases, separate flood insurance is required.

The National Flood Insurance Program is the main source for flood insurance policies in the U.S., though private insurers write and administer most policies backed by the federal government.

If you do have flood insurance, contact your provider to begin a claim.

For more information about flood insurance, click here.

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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