Lessons learned from Hurricane Matthew

CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - Damage surveyed. Stories shared. Many of you still on the long, frustrating and expensive road to recovery.

Even for the fortunate ones who avoided damage, there are lessons to be learned from Hurricane Matthew.

Some stayed in their homes and witnessed the damage first hand. Others came home to it or heard from neighbors. While most of us waited for power and cable, others dealt with seemingly never ending phone calls to insurance companies, tree services, contractors. The list is endless.

The lessons are timeless.

"Don't ever think it's not going to be you, because sometimes, it's going to be you," said Christal Vincent, a tree smashed her home.

A month ago, Vincent evacuated like so many only to come home to a tree in her children's bedroom.

It was one problem after another, starting with her new temporary home: A tent in the front yard.

"Nightmare, absolutely," said Vincent. "Panic, wondering what I was going to do for me and my girls. Stress."

Her neighbors, the National Guard and Savannah firefighters gave a huge helping hand cutting up and removing most of the monstrous cedar tree.

"It's been a rough year and it was amazing to see how a community can come together to help in a time of need," said Vincent.

But reality reared it's ugly head after talking to her insurance company. An adjuster gave one estimate. A contractor gave a higher one.

The deductible for this single mother of three girls, military vet and waitress at the Original Pancake House was $8,103 out of pocket.

"I thought that was the whole reason you pay your premiums every month," said Vincent.

"I didn't look at my policy very well and with a named storm. They take 5 percent of your home's worth," said Jeremy Howell, who is a contractor. "Which ended up being like $8,900. Yeah, that's a big chunk."

Howell was in the same boat as Vincent. Even being in the construction business, it caught him completely off guard.

"Check your insurances. Make sure you know what you are getting yourself into," said Howell.

"It took a lot of people by surprise because some of the deductibles I've dealt with are $15,000 to $16,000," said Josh Pearl, with JR Pearl Construction.

Jeremy works with Josh Pearl, owner of JR Pearl Construction. They are also roommates.

They've been hired to fix homes from Hurricane Matthew. But they also had four trees knocked down in their back yard. Finding a good, available and credible – which is a key word here - tree removal company they warn is a serious issue.

"Big storms like this, they jack up their prices," said Howell.

"Price gouging. A lot of companies coming in. Local companies have been very good," said Pearl.

Adam Suarez's company, Trees Unlimited, was called in from Augusta to help homeowners on Wilmington Island.

"A lot of these local companies are tied up. It's crazy down here right now," said Suarez. "I'd say maybe 10 out of 100 houses don't need tree work."

He says if you are quoted more than $8,000 to remove a tree. Get more quotes, be patient and don't pay for it up front.

"No, do not pay ahead of time. Wait until the job is done and you are satisfied with the work," Suarez said.

"Get a price before you go and give the OK. Some people say get it off and we'll deal with it later," said Pearl.

"First thing, let's get that tree off the house. Let's put a tarp on there and let's get it habitable," said Johnny Moran, with State Farm.

Moran tells me they've covered as much as $19,000 for a monster tree on a home. The Hurricane Duration deductible goes into effect when our area is under a hurricane watch or warning. The deductible can be 2, 5 or 10 percent of your home's value and he says homeowners are calling and re-thinking their policies.

"Then let's make an adjustment at renewal and here's what your premiums will be," said Moran.

"Maybe pay more so it will be less, it will still be a big chunk but at least you will be prepared for it," said Vincent.

Vincent is already talking about reworking her policy and other lessons learned.

"Go look at them now in case things happen," said Vincent. "Read the fine print and read again."

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