Irene’s Messy Lessons

August 30, 2011

It’s going to be a challenging few weeks for many residents along the East Coast and throughout the Northeast after Hurricane Irene dumped heavy rain for hours and left some areas completely underwater. In some places, entire towns are cut off due to flood waters. Recovery is also being delayed by widespread power outages.

If there a lesson for those of us observing at a distance, it’s the realization that disasters of this magnitude can happen anywhere. The devastation from Irene was not limited to low-lying coastal areas. Mountain towns in New York and New England also experienced significant damage to homes, businesses and property. At least one historic bridge was swept away by fast-moving water.

Many homeowners with flooded basements and flooded ground-level rooms may be caught off guard when they discover insurance policies don’t cover flooding. That can lead to a considerable financial burden. Common estimates say an inch of standing water can cause more than $10,000 in damage. Before Irene arrived, at least one Vermont town was already planning to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, which would give its residents access to federally-backed flood insurance.

Expense aside, the process of returning homes affected by Irene back to their original condition will be slowed by several other variables, including the demand for restoration work and the lack of access to many homes throughout that region. Also, not only is water mitigation essential, mold remediation may be necessary before a house is safe to live in again. Months could pass before a majority of those damaged homes will be completely repaired and restored.

While Michigan was safely removed from the impact of the hurricane, we can learn a great deal from the cleanup and recovery process happening in states such as North Carolina, New York and Connecticut. Those messy lessons will help better prepare us when the next disaster strikes here. In the meantime, we can lend our support and encouragement to those people whose lives have been disrupted by one of the ultimate forces of nature.

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