The Financial and Emotional Toll of Natural Disasters

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria wreaked havoc on parts of the United States and the Caribbean. But even those who were fortunate enough to avoid catastrophic damage were not spared the aftermath of the herculean storms. After huddling in the dark for hours with water and flashlights, victims of the hurricane found themselves in dire circumstances after the storm had passed. Massive power outages plagued the nation. Many in Florida lived without power for weeks, while in Puerto Rico, the majority of people are still without power. The cost of these storms is staggering. Estimates for Hurricane Harvey have come in anywhere from $65 – 190 billion. The cost of Hurricane Irma is estimated between $50 and $100 billion. But the cost to individuals can be even more distressing. In October, 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused devastating damage, razing entire neighborhoods and robbing more than eight million households, as far west as Michigan, of power. By Thanksgiving, some households in NJ were still without power.

When disaster looms, there’s a lot that people can do to prepare. But, unfortunately, people without powerful generators cannot adequately prepare for an extended loss of power. Many find themselves without basic services on which they have come to depend. In Florida, the loss of power proved detrimental to one nursing home where, after air conditioners failed to work, eight elderly residents died. On a much less serious level, power loss and intermittent power outages resulted in many frustrated consumers who went without television or internet for weeks.

In the aftermath of a natural disaster, when consumers have received all or most of their power back, receiving financial compensation from their service providers poses another challenge. Service providers are all trying to work with consumers to decrease their burden. Comcast is offering a one-time credit for the cable, phone and internet services that were lost during and after Hurricane Irma. Like with all communications with service providers, it’s never that easy. You either have to fill out an online form and wait for someone to call you, or you can call Comcast at 800-266-2278 and get in what is sure to be a lengthy queue. CenturyLink, FPL and LCEC are all trying to lessen the burden on customers by suspending late fees and collections from consumers impacted by Irma. Learn more about service provider policies in the aftermath of the hurricane here: If you’re still having outages, you can check Outage Report to determine if your service provider is actually experiencing an outage or if it’s just you.

The real cost of natural disasters is extremely hard to measure. Although communities try to put a dollar value on disasters, it rarely incorporates the emotional toll that individuals go through during, and in the aftermath, of such an event. Loss of service is hard enough; dealing with service providers who are overwhelmed by consumer needs can be its own challenge.

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