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How to Cope When You’re Affected by a Natural Disaster Like a Wildfire or Flood

By Julie Jaggernath

With the end of summer 2023 comes the hope that extreme weather events will draw to a close, and that those who were displaced can return home or begin rebuilding sooner than later. Communities have faced a severe wildfire season across British Columbia and the North, floods, drought, hurricane-force winds, unseasonably hot or cold temperatures, tornadoes in the nation’s capital, and wildfires and storms in Atlantic Canada. However, if the last few years are any indication of what might be in store for the future, Canadians can expect to face more natural disasters over the coming months and years. The time to make a plan for how best to weather the storm, financially and otherwise, is before you’re affected, but that’s little comfort once the crisis is on your doorstep.

Avoid an Unexpected Financial Crisis
 

What to Do Initially When Facing a Natural Disaster

It can be hard to decide what to do if you’re affected by a natural disaster like a wildfire or flood, especially if you don’t have time to plan ahead. Whether you’ve been given an evacuation order or placed on alert to leave at a moment’s notice, your well-being and that of your family, friends, pets, and livestock comes first. The following are tips to help you with that.

Start by following provincial and local instructions about evacuating to a place of safety. Subscribe to news alerts from your city or region and download news apps for quick access to changing local conditions. Your immediate needs and well-being come before everything else.

Your Health and Well-being is More Important Than Your Credit Rating

A forest fire wildfire on a mountain side.
Register with the emergency support services program and apply for any assistance you’re eligible for. There may also be services in your community, e.g. Red Cross, government, local relief efforts, etc. to help with finding shelter, buying groceries, and replacing household items for those who have lost everything. If you must leave your home, even a small place to call “home” temporarily can provide a degree of security as the situation unfolds.
A family making an emergency plan to prepare for a natural disaster.
If you have time to pack a few items as disaster looms, personal documents along with your wallet/purse, medications and supplies to take care of medical conditions, baby/infant supplies, phone/laptop/device and chargers, clothes to last for 3 – 5 days, small comfort items, especially for children, and your pets and their supplies top the list. When there’s more than a few minutes to rush out the door, also pack expensive possessions, e.g. jewellery, as well as sentimental or irreplaceable personal items, e.g. photo albums, trinkets passed down from a previous generation, or antiques/heirlooms. Everyone’s list of what’s most important to them is a little different so it will be important to pack with space in mind.

How a Good Emergency Plan Can Protect You Financially

Once you’re in a safe place, assemble whatever important documents and files you were able to take with you in one safe place. If you had to leave quickly with no time to pack, check all of your bags, pockets, wallets, and purses to see what you might have with you. Take photos of all of your important documents and upload them to a secure cloud account or email them to yourself to keep the copy safe.
 

Coming to Terms With the First Few Weeks of the Crisis

If you’re struggling with feelings of acute stress, grief over what you’ve lost or what could have been, have survivor’s guilt, or if you’re anxious or worried about pets and the well-being of loved ones you’ve lost contact with, reach out to any medical professional or support worker at an evacuation centre for help. Counselling services are available to help you look after your emotional well-being.

How to Protect Your Finances When Disaster Strikes

Be mindful of your physical health as well. Air quality and environmental safety concerns might make it hard to exercise or play outdoors, so establish a routine to get regular sleep, meals, and indoor exercise, especially if your stomach is upset or your blood pressure is elevated. Keep in mind that everyone will react differently, and your children and teens may need specialized support. Don’t hesitate to seek help to make it easier for any of you to cope.

As the crisis unfolds, feelings of frustration can set in due to not knowing what will happen next, when you can return home, or due to fear of the unknown. Combat these feelings by establishing structure for yourself with a daily routine and mindful practices. Remind yourself that you’re not in this alone by connecting with others who are experiencing similar feelings. Seek reliable information from reputable sources to alleviate fear of the unknown. However, limit social media consumption to avoid information overload. Being glued to the news can be detrimental to your overall well-being.

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Teens are voracious consumers of social media but don’t necessarily have the skills or insights to discern fact from fiction. When it comes to discussing the crisis with kids and teens, share only as much information as they’re ready to hear. Respond to their questions with short but accurate answers. If you’re not able to answer their question or don’t know, let them know and commit to finding out together, if possible.

One way to distract yourself from feeling down is to look for opportunities where you can help others. Giving is as good for the giver as it is for the receiver – it will lift your mood and remind you that there is still good in this world, even if your current surroundings are shouting otherwise.

Financial Crises are Never Planned, They Just Happen
 

Helping Those Who Have Been Affected by a Wildfire, Flood, or Tornado

If you have been affected by a natural disaster, despite dire circumstances, allow yourself to enjoy the kindness of strangers. It is hard to stand by and watch as others suffer, especially for those who feel equipped to help. If you are able to volunteer your time, connect with those on the front lines to see where your help will be most useful. If you have specialized skills, offer to volunteer where you can best utilize your skills.

Consider donating money to reputable and centralized organizations who can distribute the funds effectively. If you prefer to donate goods, ask before bringing them in if / where they’re needed, and only donate perishable goods if there’s been a request to do so. Avoid passing along anything that will create more work for those receiving it, e.g. clothing that’s no longer in good condition, appliances that “mostly” work or have a safety concern, unwanted furniture that you’ve been unable to give away, items with hygiene concerns, etc.

A group of volunteers helping those who have been effected by a wildfire, flood, tornado, or another natural disaster.
Avoid Donating Yourself Into Debt – Other Ways to Give

Offer to take in evacuees, their belongings, pets, and livestock if you have space in your home or on your property. For those who may have lost their home, keeping their kids, pets, animals, and the belongings they were able to save safe and altogether will be a blessing.

Could You Survive a Financial Emergency Like a Forest Fire?

Coping and Helping When a Natural Disaster Creates Devastation

Rather than rushing into a devastated area with offers of support, follow regional and provincial instructions regarding travel to / through affected regions. If need be, alter your personal plans if there’s been a request to avoid certain areas. It will decrease congestion for those who need to travel to those regions and for those returning home to assess the damage. And when it comes to the financial fallout of dealing with a natural disaster, contact us for help. It’s overwhelming enough to deal with the situation, so we’ve got you and are here to give you guidance.

 

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