Tornado Damage: Cleanup And Insurance Claims

Standard home insurance policies include coverage for tornado damage. But there are steps homeowners can take to minimize the damage and get back on track.

"I always tell people documentation, communication and cooperation are the most important elements of any claims settlement," says Logan Harrison, chief deputy commissioner at the Indiana Department of Insurance. "We recognize that homeowners are going through a really tough time but if they're able to keep those three things in mind, it will make their lives much easier."

Write it down

Before you can begin documenting the damage to your home and property, it's critical that you determine whether or not it's safe to remain in an area that's been hit by a tornado. After all, downed power lines, gas leaks and broken glass are accidents waiting to happen.

"Make sure it's safe to go back into your neighborhood," warns Julie Rochman, president and chief executive officer at the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety in Tampa, Fla. "Safety always comes first. You want to make sure that emergency operations people have first cleared the area [for you] to go back."

Next, begin documenting the damage. "Be as detailed as you can," recommends Jeanne Salvatore, a spokesperson for the III. "You want to make lists and take photographs."

Rochman agrees, adding that "taking video is also a really good thing to do. That's because a lot of videos include time and date stamps for greater accuracy."

That's not to suggest that you should delay making minor repairs. While it's critical to document every bit of damage, Salvatore says, "If you don't have a total loss, you also want to make basic or interim repairs to prevent additional damage."

Putting a tarp over a damaged roof, boarding up blown-out windows or sweeping up broken glass won't impact your insurance claim. Remember to "save your receipts for things like tarps and plywood, because you'll be reimbursed by your insurance company for the costs of those repairs," says Salvatore.