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NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Irene has come and gone, but not without leaving an indelible mark on millions of Americans along the Eastern seaboard.

While local officials are still tallying the damage, The Street reports that total insurer costs from Irene will total about $2.6 billion, significantly less than the $14 billion that was estimated before the storm.

If you’re among those East Coast residents looking for a quick recovery from flood or wind damage, get ready to stand in line. That said, the sooner you begin the claims process, the better. Insurers say that waiting too long can cause delays in processing and can cause more damage to your house if problems are left unrepaired and exposed to the elements.

To keep that from happening, here’s a full primer for anyone who plans to file an insurance claim this week:

Make quick contact. Call your insurance company straight away to arrange for an adjuster to visit your home or business. Make sure you have your insurance policy account number handy when you call and explain to whoever answers the extent of the damage and whether it’s flood or wind-related. Leave every piece of your contact information with the insurance company, including phone, email, text and Twitter accounts. You’ll want full access to your insurer this week.

Record the damage. Take photos of any damage to your property. Go from room to room and note what items (like sofas, televisions or carpeting, for example) have been impacted by the storm. Itemize each and include their date of purchase and estimated value.

Roll up your sleeves (or hire someone who can). While you wait for the adjuster to arrive, start tackling the problem. If there’s a hole in your roof, throw a tarp over it (call a contractor or handyman if you can’t get access to your roof). If there’s water damage in your home, bring in fans and humidifiers to dry out the dampness. The insurance company will send someone out for the heavy-duty-stuff, but you can always get started on the problem to mitigate further issues.

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Document expenses. Always keep receipts for everything you buy (like for those fans and that tarp). Make copies of them to turn in with your claim. Also, if you hire a professional to come in and help with the cleanup, turn those receipts in too. Also, make sure to show any repair estimates to your insurance company.

Read before you sign. Some insurers may be ready to hand you a quick check up front and that’s great. Just make sure you know your rights. Don’t sign off on anything that says your up-front check is your “final payment.” And don’t sign off on any document that specifies that your damage was all “flood-related.” That could be an attempt to limit your claim based on your policy coverage, which may not cover all flood-related damage.

If you have to leave your home, get cash from your insurer. If your home was damaged so extensively that it’s uninhabitable, tell your insurance company and ask for some upfront cash right away. Most policies give you the right to a housing allowance while evaluation and repair work are underway. Ask for an ATM card or even cash if you have to, and check to see if the policy covers meals while you’re out of your home. Many do, within reasonable limits.

Include damage to your car on your claim. Many people don’t realize it, but your car is likely covered under your comprehensive homeowners insurance policy. If it’s been damaged by Irene, include that on your claim, and get an adjuster in to review the toll taken on your wheels. Take pictures to support any claim (and that goes for your home, too).

One last takeaway: Good record keeping can really expedite payments and repairs. If the insurer doesn’t have to do a lot of legwork, the claims process will go much faster. It may be too late for Irene, but for the next storm, have a household inventory ready to go, including receipts, serial numbers, and dates of purchase.

While the East Coast says “Goodnight, Irene” – don’t sleep on a big insurance claim. If you do, that problem could keep you up nights for weeks to come.

Regardless of the people who lose property or the insurance companies who lose profits, plenty of people will benefit from Hurricane Irene when all is said and done. Check out MainStreet's look at How They (and You) Make Money Off Disasters!