Avoid added pain, losses in recovery from storms


The stretch of U.S. Route 224 from Canfield to Poland is best known as the largest retail and dining mecca in the Mahoning Valley.

On Tuesday, however, that bright and bustling thoroughfare and the communities that surround it took on a much more ominous claim to fame as disastrous flood zones.

In a matter of hours, some areas in that vicinity were pounded with nearly 4 inches of rain – more than the average amount of rainfall for the entire month of May in the Valley.

As a result, cars were stranded in parking lots and roadways, parts of dozens of roads were washed away, power lines were downed, innumerable basements became flooded, and many residents were rescued in rafts and transported to recovery shelters.

Though we were indeed blessed that the torrential rains caused no serious injuries or deaths, the property and infrastructure damage easily will swell into the millions of dollars.

And even though sunny skies and summerlike temperatures are forecast today and through the weekend, those caught in the bull’s-eye of the storm’s wretched path will be burdened by recovery work and repair costs for a long time to come.

That’s why we strongly encourage all affected residents of Canfield, Boardman, Poland and other communities battered by the storms in our region to follow the sage advice of state and local public officials to avoid any unnecessary additional pain and losses.

ATTORNEY GENERAL’S WARNING

As Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost points out in a warning to all Ohioans affected by this week’s severe weather, which included at least 17 tornadoes elsewhere in the state, don’t allow yourselves to be victimized by get-rich-quick con artists.

It is common practice, Yost asserts, for storm-chasing contractors to travel to affected communities to offer their services to homeowners who experience damage, such as downed trees, flooded basements or exterior home damage. In many cases, they visit unsuspecting consumers at their homes and claim they can complete the work immediately.

But in far too many cases, the shady companies perform shoddy work or no work at all.

It is therefore critical that victims of property damage from severe weather keep in mind a variety of safeguards to avoid additional victimization. Here are few of the most important advisories from the attorney general:

Research the business. Ask for identification from the company’s representative; note their name, address and phone number; and be cautious of anycontractor who doesn’t provide this information.

Check for complaints on file with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau. Conduct a basic internet search of the business name and words such as complaints, reviews or scam.

Get multiple written estimates. Consider getting estimates from at least three different contractors. Be wary if one contractor quotes a price that is dramatically lower than the prices other businesses are offering. The contractor later may demand more money or fail to complete the work as promised.

Do not make large payments in advance. Be suspicious of contractors who demand large upfront payments, such as half or more of the total cost. Pay in increments as the work is completed to your satisfaction.

Get a detailed written contract.

Consider paying with a credit card. Paying with plastic generally gives homeowners greater protections to dispute unauthorized charges, especially compared with paying in cash.

Locally, Dennis O’Hara, Mahoning County Emergency Management Agency director, also offers some constructive advice for those suffering losses from the storms. In addition to contacting your insurance agent, he urges those with damage reports also to contact the the Help Network of Northeast Ohio by calling 211 to alert public officials in those most-affected communities and to construct an accurate database of hardest-hit areas.

Toward those ends, homeowners with storm losses also should lend their full cooperation to storm assessment teams canvassing Boardman, Canfield and other areas collecting information on the types and severity of damage.

In the short term, that information will then serve as the foundation for attempts to qualify for state or federal disaster declarations and the low-interest recovery loans that come with that status.

In the long term, the data can help communities strategically target areas for drainage-system and other infrastructure improvements to reduce the risks of more losses the next time Mother Nature decides to unleash her fury on our home turf.

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