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A large tree fell and damaged two cars on Parker Avenue in San Francisco after a heavy downpour on Wednesday, March 22, 2023.(Gabrielle Lurie/The San Francisco Chronicle op Getty Imagesa)
As the Bay Area recovers from another storm, many are expectingeven greater blackouts and flooding- and, in many cases, an assessment of the damage caused by strong gusts of wind leading to downed trees that in some cases blocked entire streets.
(Just look at this map created using publicly available data from San Francisco, which is plain to seethe number of trees that fell around the city after last week's atmospheric river storm.)
But when a natural disaster strikesyourvehicle or house - literally - what's the best course of action?
- Tell us: What else do you need more information about right now?
Keep reading for our tips on how to stay safe - and which city services to contact if your property ever encounters a "higher crime."
A tree fell on my car. What now?
Katina Papson, an artist and teacher in San Francisco, said she will never forget her initial reaction to the photos.
More about the weather in California
While Papson and her husband were visiting the East Coast last New Year, a neighbor sent the couple several photos of their 2011 Subaru Outback covered in mud, leaves and lots of concrete.
When my husband showed it to me, I just laughed, she said. "Honestly, I thought, 'This is a funny accident.'"
Cause? A landslide caused by a downpour that became too much for a concrete wall along two residences in the Glen Park neighborhood of Papson. The added weight of the rain caused the wall to buckle, burying Papson's vehicle.
"Our first reaction, of course, was shock," Papson said. "And then the next one was, 'Okay, we have to call the insurance company, and I don't remember if we did.to havecover that would take care of all this.'"
Papson is just one of many people who have discovered firsthand how storms like this can topple trees, topple walls, and leave damaging debris everywhere—and sometimes those items end up on your property. So if you wake up to a tree (or concrete wall) on top of your vehicle, what do you do?
1. Back off, stay safe
Assess the damage first - from a safe distance.PG&E advises people to stay away from downed power linesand call 911 immediately.
2. Tell your city
How you get in touch with your city depends on where you live.
In San Francisco you can do bothdownload the SF311 applicationor visitSF311.org. You can also call 311 and ask to be transferredMinistry of Public Worksreport a fallen tree; DPW managesStreetTreeSF, a program that professionally maintains and cares for more than 124,000 street treesgrowing all over the city. Street trees are pruned in cycles of three to five years, according to the website.
As with PG&E, SF311 advises residents who see a fallen tree that has hit power lines, vehicles or buildings to call 911. Be sure to make detailed notes about the damage: write down the street, the vehicle's license plate number (if the car was hit), and the nearest side street where the fallen tree or branch is located. You can also fill inonline application form tree maintenance, depending on whether you have noticed a tree that is about to fall or a tree that has fallen and damaged the environment. With the request, you can upload photos and add a short description of what happened.
Other ways to report a fallen tree in the Bay Area
OAK311: In Oakland, you can report emergencies such as fallen trees or branches, flooding, sewer overflows, and street signal failures to OAK311 by dialing 311 or calling (510) 615-5566. Residents can also report non-urgent matters on the OAK311 home page.
See ClickFix: This online 311-based reporting service works by city. INAlameda,Berkeley,Emeryville,South San Franciscostill residents can visitSee ClickFixhomepage, create an account and report and upload photos of fallen trees or branches, street light failures, illegal dumping and other safety issues.
Urban forestry: Berkeley residents wishing to request the removal of a city tree can call 311 if they are within the city limits or call (510) 981-2489. You can also email a request with photos and necessary street information to email@example.com.
If you live outside of these areas, your city or county may have its own procedure for reporting a fallen tree. Google "report a fallen tree" plus the name of your city or county to find the website, email address, or phone number recommended as the quickest way to notify local authorities of a hazard.
3. Document everything for your insurance
Photograph and document everything. Take photos of your vehicle or property from multiple angles and record the date and time the damage occurred. Make sure you do all of these before moving your car safely.
You also want to collect receipts: namely receipts for recent car maintenance that you have paid for. This could include new tires, engine parts, and even a new radio or speakers.
For those who have experienced unexpected property damage, like Papson, it's important to have all these receipts, photos, and files in preparation for the next step: calling your auto insurance company.
4. Talk to your insurer
Be prepared to talk about your claim with many people. "You'll find there are so many people in insurance companies that you have to talk to, like the claims adjuster, and then there's the surcharge adjuster," Papson said. "They're all in contact with the coachbuilder - and with you - so there's a lot of communication."
One tip that Papson found helpful was downloading her insurance company's app, which she used to file claims, and uploading all the photos she took. He also recommends creating a simple spreadsheet that includes information about insurance policies, important phone numbers, and people you talk to along the way.
"One thing you notice about auto-adjusters is that there are fewer of them now since COVID and they're starting to do FaceTime assessments," she said.
This is all the more reason to carefully photograph and document all damage.
“Communicate and advocate strongly for yourself,” she said. "You just have to keep calling the insurance company — and that's an incredibly long time."
5. How to file a claim with the municipality for compensation
If you live in San Francisco, after you've notified the DPW and filed a claim with your insurance company, it's time toto file charges with the San Francisco State Attorney's Officefor damage to your vehicle and/or property if, for example, a city tree fell on your property and damaged it. (Here is a link to the direct form.)
According toon the website of the city office, "claims for death or personal injury or damage to personal property must be made within six months of the accident giving rise to the claim."
After submitting your application, you will receive a confirmation letter with an application number stating that your application has been received. Be sure to write down and refer to this important information as you track the status of the case.
6. Seek transportation assistance if you're temporarily without a car
First, check if your car insurance policy allows you to use a rental car.
If it doesn't, consider telling friends and colleagues about your situation and asking for a ride together. You can also refresh your transit routes, just like Papson did: For the past two and a half months, she's been commuting with friends and taking Muni with her.
"We had an umbrella coverage plan with Geico. But under that plan we didn't have a rental car. So I took the bus until last week when I just bought a second car," she said.
7. Finally, check how much your car is worth
Papson said she ended up getting less than $10,000 for her total Subaru. She noted that the used car market is "weird" right now, with people selling their vehicles for significantly more than the Kelley Blue Book value — all of which factored into her decision to agree with Geic's total vehicle valuation.
"Be diligent with your paperwork and be prepared to go back and forth with the insurance company," she said. "Sometimes you can find deals for the same car online, such as used car deals. [Your insurer] will look at the Kelley Blue Book value, which is no longer accurate. ...
"There are so many ways you can kind of fight them and stand up for yourself."
We at KQED News know that it can sometimes be difficult to find answers to navigate life in the Bay Area in 2023.clear, helpful explanations and guides on things like COVID,how to deal with intense winter weatherihow to safely exercise your right to protest.
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