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For those whose homes have been damaged by storms, it’s important they take action quickly to begin the remediation process before secondary damage occurs.

“If something needs (repairs) immediately, the best thing you can do is get a contractor out to your house and have them assess how they can start the work as soon as possible,” said Justin Woodard of Woodard Cleaning & Restoration Services in St. Louis.

That doesn’t mean, though, that homeowners should choose the first contractor that comes calling, or just go with whom their insurance provider recommends. Homeowners should do their homework and hire a company with whom they are comfortable.

“The homeowner has the right to choose a contractor that they want to provide the services for an insurance claim,” Woodard said. “I don’t feel like many people are fully educated about what their rights are as a consumer.”

Whom you choose to hire to help repair damage from a storm is as important as addressing the damage quickly. Though many companies that deal with storm damage — from water remediation, to roofing, to tree removal — are honest and do good work, there is a segment in the industry known as “storm chasers” that often go to storm-ravaged areas knocking unsolicited on doors looking for work.

Unfortunately, these companies often prey on homeowners in need, ask for cash up front and then only do shoddy, little or no work before they disappear onto the next unsuspecting customer.

Before hiring anyone for storm-repair work, be sure to investigate the company’s history and get a contract in writing. Never pay in cash and never pay in full up front.

Keep in mind when storms hit an area, the best companies are often the busiest. Even if a top-notch company can’t make the necessary repairs right away, they often will address urgent issues to prevent further damage until they can get in to make the full repairs.

Water mitigation is usually the most important step in preventing secondary damage, like mold.

“Homeowners need to understand that stormwater is not a clean source of water,” said Chris Nowak of PuroClean Emergency Property Restoration in Linwood, N.C. “It’s what we call ‘Black water’ or ‘Category 3’ water in the industry. Black water can carry with it everything that was outside the house; potentially pesticides, lawn fertilizers, chemicals and contaminates from oil. All of these things have the potential to come in the home and create an unhealthy environment.”

Homeowners who experience storm damage should make sure their home is safe, before attempting to assess or address it themselves.

“The first thing with a flooding situation is safety, of course,” Nowak said. “They want to turn the power off, the breakers off and get their family to a safer level and away from that water. They don’t want to have (live) electrical cords (in) and children and pets running through the water.”

Once safety issues have been addressed, there are things homeowners can do themselves to minimize the damage, from extracting water from floors to removing furniture and belongings in areas affected by storm damage.

“If there are ways to either block the water from getting to other parts of the house, that can be helpful,” Woodard said. “If you can’t control where the water is going, you can sometimes control what is in the water’s way. If you have chairs, boxes or other contents of the house in harm’s way, you can move those out of the way so they don’t incur damage.”