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Survival Tips: Changing Hurricane Victims Into Hurricane Survivors

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A New Jersey Natural Gas technician inspects a leaking gas main under a Hurricane Sandy-damaged home on Oct. 31, 2012, in Long Beach Island, N.J. (credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

A New Jersey Natural Gas technician inspects a leaking gas main under a Hurricane Sandy-damaged home on Oct. 31, 2012, in Long Beach Island, N.J. (credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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We were hiding in the closet as we heard what sounded like freight trains going over our home at about 2:30 in the morning.

Shortly after that, we heard all the windows in the house explode.

Suddenly the storm winds sounded a lot closer than ever.

About 20 minutes later we felt rain drizzling down on us along with the roof insulation.

The roof was coming off. I told my two daughters and my wife that we probably just went through the worst of a very powerful hurricane.

But I kept to myself the inner terror of wondering if we’d survive the night, if we’d ever see the light of day again.

At about 6:30 a.m., the winds died down. I pushed the closet door open to find half of our house gone. Everything inside was thrown around like a giant hand punched through the roof and tore it apart. Like everyone else in the neighborhood, we were dazed as we came out that morning to see all the damage – our neighborhood flattened by the storm.

Somehow, we made it through the night and faced the reality we had survived one of the worst storms in history.

Our lives would never be the same, but we survived.

- Al Sunshine, recalling Hurricane Andrew on Aug. 24, 1992

That was my story 20 years ago.

I know it’s being repeated all over the East Coast. This time, it’s Hurricane Sandy, but the story’s the same: Millions of families being hit hard by a killer storm. Millions of families facing the aftermath of cleaning up, rebuilding, healing. Families mourning lost loved ones.

Take it from me – we’re not “storm victims,” we’re storm survivors.

We picked ourselves up from Hurricane Andrew’s rubble, just like we picked ourselves up after Katrina.

Life goes on and somehow we deal with finding fresh water, food, gasoline and a warm, dry bed for our children. Somehow we find the strength to care for each other, cleanup the damage, rebuild and get on with our lives. Somehow, we find the way to choke back tears as we remember our homes and our lives being torn apart.

Twenty years later, as I write this, I still have to wipe tears away from my eyes after remembering that night of terror.

It’s worth it for me to be able to share how we survived that massive storm and found the strength to put our homes and lives back together again. My neighborhood was literally “Gone with the Wind.”

Quick Insurance Tips: If you haven’t done it yet, document your losses. Take pictures of everything for your insurance claims, both inside your home or apartment and outside as well. If you can, write down everything you see on a notepad or portable computer to document what has been damaged. At some point you may need to figure out replacement costs to put a monetary value on the losses.

If you can, try to salvage as much as possible from your home, especially personal items you can never replace. Check with your insurance agent first to see if you should move anything before an adjuster checks it out first.

You may be solicited by private adjusters or contractors offering to help you clean up your property or make some early repairs to prevent further damage. Be very careful before signing anything or giving anyone any money. The first few days after a hurricane is “prime time” for clean up and repair scams.

You’ve probably just been through the worst natural disaster you’ve ever faced. It’s a bad time to have to deal all the “red tape” you’ll need to get through for insurance claims, federal disaster aid, paying bills and trying to get your family as back to normal as possible.

Here are good websites for dealing with Sandy’s aftermath and what aid may be available to you and your family:
* American Red Cross Storm Aid: redcross.org
* Federal Assistance Information: disasterassistance.gov
* FEMA individual Assistance Tools: fema.gov
* Property-Casualty Insurers Association of America: pciaa.net
* FTC Storm Rebuilding/Charity Scam Alert: ftc.gov

Remember, you survived the worst from Sandy: Now comes surviving the aftermath and realizing you are not alone.

Two decades later, I still feel the pain of having my home blown apart as I waited in a dark closet for the storm to pass. It finally did.

Rebuilding isn’t easy, but again don’t ever forget you are not alone and there is help available for you and your family.

- Award-winning journalist Al Sunshine is best known for WFOR-TV’s “4 Your Money” series which investigates issues for South Florida consumers. Sunshine’s blog can be followed on CBS Miami.

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