By Maryland Senator Roy Dyson
I remember all too clearly the recent hurricanes that directly affected us in Southern Maryland - Isabel and Floyd. Indirectly, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita saddened all Americans who saw the devastation wrought last year.
Locally, many people gave charitable contributions to the victims of those hurricanes last year. Others, such as the St. Marys Hurricane Relief Fund went directly to the devastated gulf coast states to help out. In Calvert County, Saint John Vaianney Catholic Church, led by Father Daly, made four trips to Our Mother of Mercy in Pass Christian, Mississippi to help rebuild their parish hall including putting on a new roof. They are now having mass in the parish hall while they rebuild their church.
But back to Isabel and Floyd. These hurricanes showed that this is not just a phenomenon in the gulf coast states. People are still doing their best even today to recover from those hurricanes. It is a long, costly process. Many are still haggling with their insurance company over their losses and Im sure some still have nightmares about the hardships they endured during the course of those events.
It is entirely possible that during this hurricane season, we could fall victim to one or several hurricanes or severe tropical storms. It is imperative that we be prepared.
Obviously a lot of news coverage has been devoted to the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, often called the worst disaster in American history. Everyone involved in the crisis concedes that there was failure on behalf of national, state and local governments on a monumental scale.
It is essential during hurricane season that we be prepared if one such as Isabel comes our way again.
And I believe it just takes simple common sense to be ready if a hurricane does come our way. We are blessed - and sometimes cursed - that we live in an area surrounded by water. Since hurricanes thrive off of water, we are prime targets.
For those who live near the water, meet with your home insurance carrier and get a policy that includes flood insurance if possible. In many cases, homeowners policies do not cover flood damage. Its too great a risk not to make this necessary investment.
Its also essential that you be prepared for at least 72 hours if a hurricane hits. You should be mindful of even the smallest details. Make sure all of your personal information is available for you to take and that you have a safe escape route. Give yourself plenty of time and listen to the local news or radio stations for constant updates. Have plenty of batteries and several changes of clothes along with other necessities in case you have to evacuate to another location.
Over the years, I have written to you about the problems of identity theft. Many of the people who lost their homes during Hurricane Katrina left in such a hurry that they did not bring essential items along with them that would identify them for who they were. Once they arrived back, many did not have deeds or other important identifying documents and could not prove they owned their own home or property because it literally blew or flew away.
During the tornado that wreaked havoc in Benedict, Hughesville and La Plata a few years ago, there were reports of peoples records that ended up in Delaware.
We are very lucky to have a very responsible electricity provider in SMECO. In fact, SMECO was recently awarded the highest rating on record from its national associations Rural Electric Safety Accreditation program. If you have problems with your power, SMECO is very good at restoring it as soon as possible. During both Hurricane Isabel and Floyd, I worked closely with SMECOs outstanding President/CEO Joe Slater to make sure our mutual constituents were returned to power as soon as possible. SMECO can be reached at 1-888-440-3311 (toll free) or http://www.smeco.coop/.
The Maryland Insurance Administration has a guide that is very handy that cites resources for citizens affected by a storm. They include:
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides payments for some storm-related costs not covered by insurance. They can be reached toll-free at (800)-621-FEMA, ext. 3362 or http://www.fema.gov/.
National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) underwrites flood insurance policies sold by local insurance companies. Claims are paid under NFIP guidelines through the companies that sold the policies. The toll-free number is (800) 767-4341 or http://www.fema.gov.nfip/ .
Small Business Administration (SBA) provides low-interest loans to individuals and businesses to cover property damage costs. The toll free number is: (800) 659-2955 or http://www.sba.gov/ .
Maryland Insurance Administration regulates the insurance industry in the State. It also helps adjudicate consumer complaints. The toll free number is (800) or http://www.mdinsurance.state.md.us/ .
Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development can provide information regarding state housing renovation and rebuilding programs. The toll free number is (800) 756-0119.
Office of the Peoples Counsel helps locate financial assistance for utility bills for residential customers of electricity, natural gas, telephone and private water services. The toll-free number is (800) 207-4055 or http://www.opc.state.md.us/ .
The Maryland State Bar Association can provide legal assistance to help people who cannot afford to pay for legal help. The toll-free number is: (800) 492-1964 or http://www.msba.org/ .
The Maryland Home Improvement Commission where people should check to see if a home improvement contractor is licensed, whether there are complaints against the contractor or others. The toll-free number is (888) 218-5925 or http://www.dllr.state.md.us/license/occprof/homeim.html .
Mold Remediation Help can be obtained through the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Community Health Administration. It provides information on the hazard of mold and what can be done to remove mold. Their number is (410) 767-5300 or http://www.cha.state.md.us/ .
The Environmental Protection Agency also offers information about mold remediation on their web site: http://www.epa.gov/iaq/molds/ .