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Protect Your Important Papers and Property

How to make sure your valuables survive the storm

Keep a disaster kit

It's a good idea too to have a kit of emergency supplies ready to go — things like flashlights, batteries, manual can-opener, etc., and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a list for what should be in your disaster kit. You'll also find tips for coping before, during and after a disaster.

Stuff that will come in handy

If flooding and heavy rain are the danger, get locking plastic storage bins or garbage bags to store heirlooms, photo albums and clothing high and dry. Should you need to wade through water, zipper-type sandwich or gallon-sized plastic bags can keep papers, medications and cash dry. You'll want to keep some cash on hand, as ATMs may not work following a disaster.

Other low-cost items worth buying: a corded telephone, which unlike cordless models, will still work if the power goes out; flexible cable or metal strapping to secure large appliances (especially your hot water heater, so it doesn't topple over during tornados or hurricanes and cause more flooding); and childproof latches to hold cabinets closed so they don't spill their contents.

Riding out the storm

If you're a two-car household and evacuating in one vehicle, what do you do with the other? If flooding's a threat, the ideal place is an upper floor of a multilevel indoor parking structure. Some GPS devices provide elevations for other higher ground locations, notes FEMA's Darryl Madden. If an earthquake or hurricane is looming, park away from buildings and trees.

What about utility service?

If you are evacuating your home, Madden recommends shutting off water, gas and electrical service. But, if your home has a sump pump that operates on electricity, you'll need to leave the power on to prevent a flood.

If you do get hit by a natural or weather disaster, you may get relief on your income taxes. IRS Publication 547 explains how provisions of the tax code might affect you. You can also call the agency's hotline for disaster-related tax issues, 1-866-562-5227.

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.

Updated October 2012

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