Homeowners, officials get prepared for Tropical Storm Erika

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With the uncertainty of Tropical Storm Erika's path through the tropics as it heads toward Florida, the crews who are in charge of keeping the community safe and cleaning up the damage if a major storm does hit are getting prepared.

When major storms do make landfall, it's usually falling trees that cause the most damage, and tree trimmers as well as power line crews are paying close attention to Erika.

But it's not just professionals who need to be concerned with fighting back the foliage that can grow up around homes and businesses.

Gene Bushor, who's been trimming trees for decades, said homeowners need to be worrying about the trees around their property and before it's too late, which he said this late into hurricane season, it is.

"It's a little bit late, but if you've got something that's an emergency then call somebody," Bushor with Tree Surgeons said.

Bushor's tree surgeons will be struggling to deal with all the calls they may get if Erika hits the Jacksonville area because one look at their schedule shows they're booked solid until Oct. 8.

For homeowners that are concerned though Bushor said there are some things you can look for as you survey your property for suspect trees.

"The main thing is to keep your trees kind of thinned out, not lion tailed. That's bad. Watch for decay, watch for bad places at the base of a tree. Decay. You can walk around the tree and keep bushes and shrubs away from the tree," Bushor said.

And if tree trimming crews are impacted by a storm the other crews who likely will be there to help are the line crews for JEA who are often on call with big storms.

When a hurricane is expected to come into town though, those line crews take their diligence a step further.

"For a storm like that, they would have duty crews stay at home during the day and get their families out of town for the storm, and then have us come back at night," Chris Richardson with JEA said.

As crews began preparing for the possibility of a hurricane Wednesday it was also coincidentally National Linemen Day, a day set aside to honor these workers who will work tirelessly and travel up and down the east coast if they have to, helping not only Jacksonville but other cities that could be hit.

"We've been as far as Lipa Beach in New York. We've been to New York, Texas, a bunch of different places," Richardson said.

Staying properly insured if the worst happens

Aside from keeping trees trimmed around a home, there is another key component that homeowners need to make sure is taken care of just in case the worst were to happen.

With the possibility of Erika hitting Florida, a lot of homeowners are looking into their insurance policies and wondering what would happen if they were to have damage from a storm.

Insurance experts say that now is the time to break out their insurance policies and review specifically what it covers, and what their premiums are.

If a storm hits, there can be a lot of questions involved. Like what happens with flooding? Or while keeping their trees trimmed, how could those trees affect a neighbor's property? Or whether they'll be able to get new or extra insurance coverage?

Steve Canty with Brightway Insurance said as far as insurance goes, it's not too difficult to get new or extra coverage, unless it comes to flood insurance.

"There's always a possibility we can sit down as long as there's an insurance company still writing policies in Florida and they haven't shut down yet. Then we can sit down with them, go through the information on their home and possibly provide them with coverage," Canty said. "But with flood insurance, that can be more difficult because there's still a standard 30-day waiting period on flood insurance."

Canty said people also need to be prepared in the case of an evacuation by putting their insurance paperwork in a safe water proof place that they can easily access if they do need to leave their home.

"Your insurance policy, homeowner's insurance policy and flood insurance policy is important to have. Your contact information for your insurance agent and contact numbers for your relatives and friends that are close by," Canty said.

As for trees falling onto a neighbor's property and possibly causing damage, Canty said that is the neighbor's responsibility to deal with.

"It's going to be the responsibility of your neighbor to contact their insurance company. To have it removed and to do the repairs on that. Same thing, neighbor's tree falls on your property, it's going to be your responsibility to contact you're insurance company to do that," Canty said.

About the Author: