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THE FLORIDA TIMES-UNION
Saturday, August 13, 2005

Preparing for a Storm

Local Real Estate Pros Offer Advice

By Cari Boyce
Special to the Times-Union

Floridians are no strangers to the effects of the twisting, churning winds and torrential rains of hurricanes. However, Northeast Florida residents have long been spared the most serious effects of these awesome conglomerations of wind and water.

During hurricane season 2004 this all changed and locals discovered that a direct hit is not always necessary to do some serious damage.

Realtor Will Vasana of Watson Realty's Southside Boulevard office has seen first hand the havoc these storms can wreak.

Vasana lived in South Florida in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew, a category five storm, ripped through the area. Many of his friends and family members suffered heavy losses.

"During the 2004 hurricane season, Northeast Florida experienced a threat of damage from high winds and severe flooding associated with hurricanes not seen in the area in more than 40 years," Vasana said.

Northeast Florida residents, who had become complacent in the absence of direct threats, now take the possibility of damage from these storms seriously.

"Homeowners in this area now track the storms and take steps to protect themselves, their families and property when a hurricane approaches the state," Vasana said. "They have become familiar with the terminology associated with these weather systems and know when to make preparations to keep homes and belongings safe. Many learned these lessons the hard way after hurricanes Charley, Francis, Ivan and Jeanne. We suffered a great deal of property loss as trees and branches fell and flood waters rose."

The first step in determining the extent to which a homeowner must go to protect homes and property is to know the level of risk should we find ourselves in the projected path of a storm.

Because hurricanes carry both the threat of wind and water damage, homeowners must secure their homes against both.

Before hurricane season, homeowners should know the projected flood elevation of their area, whether their homeowner's insurance is adequate and if there is a need for flood insurance in addition to a regular policy.

The Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in its publication, Surviving the Storm, A Guide to Hurricane Preparedness, recommends all homeowners consider purchasing flood insurance because floods and water damage can occur almost anywhere.

Vice president, broker and manager of Watson's Atlantic Beach office, Janet Palmer, has been with Watson for 29 years and has lived in Neptune Beach just as long. Palmer has evacuated twice ahead of hurricane threats.

The Northeast Florida Builder's Association recommends documenting the contents of the home using video and photographs and storing them with important real estate, insurance and medical papers in a water proof container that homeowners can take if required to evacuate.

Palmer suggests trading data with a trusted friend or relative in another part of the country to ensure the safety of important information.

Homeowners can physically prepare their property to resist water damage by many means from elevating the entire home to raising only the major appliances and home systems.

Palmer suggests permanently elevating washing machines, dryers, hot water heaters and heating systems to avoid damage from rising water.

"Elevate, unplug and cover with plastic computers and electronics to minimize damage and the risk of electric shock and fire," Palmer said.

Fuel tanks should be considered as well. They should be anchored to the floor or wall with corrosion resistant fasteners or pressure treated lumber to prevent them from tipping or floating. Fuel spills caused by rising water will only compound damage from flooding.

NEFBA stresses the importance of cleaning out clogged gutters and downspouts to ensure water is carried away from the home and the home's foundation to help prevent flooding and structural damage.

Homes in South Florida that survived Hurricane Andrew were examined after the storm and compared to homes that did not weather the storm. This comparison uncovered four critical areas of a home that should be checked for weakness in the face of high winds -- the roof, windows, doors and garage doors.

Homeowners should examine the roof and its structure to determine whether it can withstand high winds. Poorly installed sheathing, inadequate reinforcement of gables and trusses and weak connections between the roof and walls can cause a roof to fail in hurricane force winds.

Homeowners can correct some of these issues themselves but some require professional assistance like the installation of hurricane clips to secure the roof to the walls. When preparing a home for a hurricane most people focus on the windows. Homeowners can choose from a number of solutions to protect windows from wind and flying objects.

"Storm shutters are an excellent choice for ease of use and the protection they provide," Vasana said. "They are available in a variety of materials including steel, aluminum and wood and are aesthetically pleasing. Most homes in Jacksonville don't have hurricane shutters, but last year was a rude awakening for parts of Florida that normally don't feel they are vulnerable to hurricanes. Plywood also is effective when installed correctly. Homeowners should be sure to uses 3/4 inch plywood at a minimum."

Palmer suggests painting the plywood with exterior paint to preserve it for future use.

"Plywood window covers should overlap the window opening by four inches on each side," Palmer said. "Homeowners would be well advised to mark all plywood pieces to aid future installations."

A home's doors are another area of concern. Double doors are especially vulnerable due to lack of bracing between the two doors. A substantial dead bolt can help reinforce these types of doors and the stationary door of the pair can be reinforced with heavy-duty slide bolts at the top and bottom.

Doors with windows will require further protection.

Dale Morrison, regional director of property management for Watson opened the property management division of the Palm Coast office in January 2002.

"Homeowners should secure outdoor items such as furniture, grills, potted plants and anything that can become airborne," Morrison said. "These items should be moved indoors or tied down. Some homeowners with swimming pools will place furniture in the pool for the duration of the storm."

Garage doors are also vulnerable to wind damage and should be reinforced to prevent failure. Single car garage doors are more durable than wider versions. Garage doors should be inspected to ensure the tracks are secure and bracing installed horizontally across the door panels can sufficiently strengthen even double garage doors.

"If evacuated, make sure home is secured," Morrison said. "Upon returning, enter with care, watch for snakes and wild animals especially if the home has been damaged. If the home uses gas be aware of potential gas leaks. Use only flashlights to explore the home initially. If water damage or flooding has occurred, homeowners should open doors and windows to help air out the structure."

2004 brought evidence that a storm need not make landfall at our front door to do serious damage. These storms are extremely costly to families and communities and it is important to take steps to adequately protect our investment.

"We treasure our homes and belongings, but nothing is as precious as life and we must protect ourselves and our loved ones above all else," Palmer said. "It is important to prepare a hurricane kit as recommended by the Red Cross and help each other because as important as these material things can be, we must remember that most of our belongings can be replaced but we, and our loved ones, are irreplaceable."

The Florida Times-Union