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NEW YORK (MainStreet) —  A massive tornado cut a six-mile path across Joplin, Mo., on Sunday that tore neighborhoods apart and demolished thousands of homes. The destruction left many stranded Missouri residents without access to the funds that could help them find shelter.

In the wake of the devastating tornado, MainStreet looked into what consumers could do to keep their finances accessible following a natural disaster. Our panel of financial advisers had the following tips:

Have a digital back-up plan.

Jim Heitman, a certified financial planner with Compass Financial Planning, says that while a safe deposit box may be a good place to store some back-up documents in a local bank, it can also be rendered inaccessible because of the same natural disaster.

As such, he suggests that consumers use some sort of cloud-based storage for copies of important financial documents. “My personal favorite is Google Docs,” Heitman says. “You can store vital docs in a secure way that you can retrieve just about anywhere.”

Katherine Holden, a certified financial planner with Holden Financial Planning, points out that if you do have a safe deposit box, you’ll want to make sure to store copies of your driver’s license, passport, credit or debit cards and even a list of passwords to your bank accounts since you can only benefit from having them should the bank survive the storm.

Have an emergency fund.

Holden also suggests that consumers everywhere make it a point to store enough funds to live off of for three to six months, based on their current fixed expenses, in an insured account. These funds should be enough to cover rent or mortgage payments, utility bills and monthly insurance payments. 

Know where to go for help.

First and foremost, Heitman suggests learning how to get in touch with the local American Red Cross, since “they can be a tremendous help in finding shelter for you and your family in the event of a disaster.”

For instance, the Red Cross has already set up one shelter at Missouri Southern State University and another in Minneapolis, where people are regrouping after the tornado.  You can find out where the Red Cross is located near your place of residence on the organization’s website.

Heitman says pursuing help with the Red Cross can also help legitimize your story so you're less likely to run into roadblocks with financial institutions as you start to pick up the pieces.

But he also says that residents who find themselves without shelter should not be too proud to ask for help from their personal network.

“If your house has been destroyed and you’re standing there in your PJs, no one will think less of you for asking for a little help,” Heitman says, suggesting that you reach out to friends and family that may be able to provide shelter in an area that wasn’t affected by the natural disaster. “They will likely allow you to borrow a computer so you can access that emergency doc you stored online and get your new debit and credit cards coming your way.”

Are you adequately insured against natural disasters? Consult MainStreet’s checklist to make sure!

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