TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, homeowners are assessing damage and contacting their insurance companies.

In Valrico, Hurricane Ian left Amy Long and her family with a massive oak tree crushing their pool cage and leaning on their home. On Friday, Long and her husband took the first step to protect their property by hiring a tree company that had to use a crane to remove the gigantic tree.

They called their insurance company and hope they’ll get reimbursed for the tree removal and can soon get their home repaired.

“They said the root system weighs like 15,000 pounds,” Long said.

The Longs are among thousands in Florida filing claims, so experts warn it could take a while for insurance companies to work through the claims.

While you wait:

  • Document damage with photos or videos for your claim.
  • Prevent further damage, such as covering broken windows with plastic or hiring a professional to cover your roof with tarps.
  • Document expenses and keep receipts for any preliminary repairs. This could include tree removal, tarps, food or hotel stays.

AAA’ Mark Jenkins warns to also be on the lookout for those who may be looking to take advantage of you.

“Some contractor may ask you to sign an assignment of benefits form. You want to be very careful about these because these can sometimes lead to fraud. Contractors in some cases have been known to file claims on your behalf for work they didn’t do or work you didn’t even need and this can lead to lawsuits, your claim being denied and your premiums going up,” Jenkins said.

Hurricane Ian is already putting added pressure on Florida’s insurance crisis. Just last year, six insurance companies pulled out of the state.

Keep in mind, flood coverage is not included in homeowners’ insurance policies. People must buy flood insurance separately, but data shows few who live inland do. The vast majority of flood coverage in the U.S. is sold through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program.

Even if your homeowner’s insurance struggles to pay claims, there are two backstops in Florida to make sure consumers get their claims paid.

The Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund jumps in when an insurer runs out of reserves and cannot pay out claims.

The Florida Insurance Guaranty Association pays out claims when an insurance company goes insolvent.

If your company is in receivership, you can go to the state website My Florida CFO to find more information on how to file a claim.

Homeowners and renters in Hillsborough, Sarasota, Manatee, Pinellas, Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, and Lee counties who were affected by the hurricane may apply for FEMA disaster assistance.

You can do that at disasterassistance.gov or by calling 800-621-3362 from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. or by using the FEMA mobile app.

You will need to have this information with you: a current phone number, your address at the disaster site and where you are staying now, your social security number, a general list of damage and losses, banking information if you choose direct deposit and, if insured, your policy number or the agent and company name.

Michael Brower, a spokeswoman from State Farm insurance company, says they have 6,900 total claims received so far, with a breakdown of 3,900 homeowner and 3,000 auto claims.

The highest rates for claims, Brower said, so far are Lee, Charlotte, Collier, Orange and Polk counties.

“We encourage people with roof damage to report their damage as soon as possible to get the claim process started,” Brower said. “If it is safe to do so, temporary repairs are encouraged to keep further damage to the interior of the home from happening.”

After initial repairs, your claims consultant should be able to walk you through the repair process. Expenses for repairs made now can later be submitted for reimbursement as part of the claims, Brower said.