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How to keep your kids entertained and your sanity when trapped at home by severe weather

When severe weather traps you inside your home with your children, whether in the aftermath of a hurricane or during less severe bad weather and power outages, there are things you can do to keep kids entertained while you keep your sanity.

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If you're home for the day, or a few days, here are a few things you can do to stay entertained without going crazy or running up your data plans.

If you still have power:

Do some family-friendly baking:

One way to keep kids occupied is with a slew of simple cooking tasks (cracking eggs, manning the mixing bowl) and the promise of sweets.

Cooking Light has a roundup of “kid-friendly desserts,” including gluten-free s'more bars, chewy caramel apple cookies and more. If you run through that list, the Food Network has another.

And not having kids is no reason not to bake in bad weather: for company, just sub in the closet available roommates, family, friends or pets. (This advice applies to the rest of the list.)

>> Related: Hurricane Irma: What to do about fallen trees and how to stop the danger

Check out these party games:

Jackbox's Drawful is a bizarre twist on Pictionary: players score points not just for drawing the best possible version of, say, "angry ants"; but also for getting other players to guess their answer for a given drawing instead of the correct one.

Drawful comes packaged as part of the Jackbox Party Pack and is available to buy and download here, and is compatible with the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Amazon Fire TV and others. All you need to play is a phone, tablet or controller. 

But if you're feeling more competitive and less artistic, consider QuizUp. Available for both iPhone and Android. This competitive trivia app pits two players against each other in seven rounds of questions in one of several hundred different categories, including pop culture and academia. And it's free. 

Get crafty:

Create a crafting area in your home. Fill it with crafting materials like tape, paper and boxes. When inspiration strikes your child, they can create fun things in their own “workshop.”

Without power:

Get clever:

When the house goes dark, kids’ imaginations light up. A trip to the bathroom with a flashlight can become an adventure, and reading stories by candlelight will stick with them more than just another movie night. 

Get ahead of a power outage:

Stock up on glow sticks. Kids can really have fun with these simple light sticks. Once you crack them, they provide a bright light for up to 12 hours and a dim light for as long as 36 hours. They come in all kinds of shapes, sizes and colors, and can provide hours of fun for children.

>> Related: Hurricane Irma aftermath: Drone video shows St. Augustine damage

Build a fort:

Kids love building forts just for fun anyway. So if you find yourself in the dark without power, gather up pillows and blankets, and plan on moving some furniture around to help your little ones build the perfect fortress. You can even make it more like an adventure. Plan to snuggle in for the night, and maybe tell a few ghost stories, too.

Hurricane Irma damage: What to do about fallen trees and how to stop the danger

Hurricane Irma, once a Category 5 monster with record-breaking 185-mph winds, weakened to a tropical storm as it plowed through parts of the Southeast after leaving Florida on Monday.

>> Read more trending news

The storm killed more than 40 people in the Caribbean and Florida, and at least three people were killed in Georgia, two crushed by falling trees.

Millions of people were left in the dark, as the storm toppled trees and power lines across parts of the Southeast.

If you’re experiencing tree damage following the tropical storm, here are expert tips on tree safety, removal and more: 

>> Related: Of your neighbor’s tree falls in your yard, who pays for it?

Signs of tree danger

  • Dead branches or branches barely hanging by a thread
  • Insect infestations
  • Hollowing inside the tree
  • Leaking sap
  • Cracks in the lower trunk or large stems split from the tree
  • Severed or broken roots
  • Noticeable tree lean after a storm

>> Related: Hurricane Irma damage: What to do before, during and after a flood

What to do if a tree falls on your property and who to call for help

Do not attempt to self-clean.

According to Ryan Smith of Monster Tree Service, this is one of the most dangerous mistakes people make after a tree causes damage on their property.

“So many people get hurt after a storm because they get on the roof to try and fix the damage themselves and slip and fall,” he said. “Our experts won’t even do that without the proper equipment.”

Stay away from the damaged areas.

If you walk on compromised areas, such as near downed power lines, the repercussions could be quite dangerous, Smith said.

Immediately call a tree removal service, but avoid getting scammed.

You want to find a tree removal company that not only carries insurance, but specifically includes workers’ compensation.

This is because the biggest risk during tree removal is someone getting damaged on property, Smith said.

When calling the company, ask for certificates and proof of liability insurance and workers’ compensation.

>> Related: Photos: Hurricane Irma damage in Florida Keys

Remember to look out for any unsolicited offers and too-good-to-be-true bargains. It’s always best to double check references and read reviews.

Be sure to sign a written agreement before the work, and unless it’s just a small deposit, there’s no reason to pay up front.

Read more here.

If your neighbor's tree falls in your yard, who pays for cleanup?

If a tree falls in your yard, what you do next could save you money, a limb and maybe even your life.

>> Read more trending news 

According to Trees Atlanta, the metro area has the nation's highest "urban tree canopy," defined as the layer of leaves, branches and stems of trees that cover the ground when viewed from above.

During the stormy summer months, fallen trees are fixtures in metro Atlanta's landscape. The steps you take after a tree falls can mean the difference between headache and heartache.

The first thing to do is call your homeowners insurance agent, said Bob Delbridge, owner of 404-Cut-Tree, one of the largest tree service companies in the Atlanta area.

"Occasionally we will deal directly with the insurance company. But that's more likely if there is a storm that covers a large area, like a whole neighborhood." Delbridge said. "Typically, the homeowner deals with their own insurance company."

Where the tree falls determines who pays for what. "Almost everyone is surprised when we tell them, the way the law works is, wherever the tree landed, that person is responsible for dealing with it regardless of where the tree came from."

That's right, even if the tree is rooted in your neighbor's yard, if it crashes onto your property, it's your problem.

Once the insurance agent gives the green light, the homeowner is responsible for hiring contractors. Homeowners can save money cutting up the tree themselves and then hiring someone to simply remove logs and branches. However, unless skilled with a chainsaw, owners should leave tree removal to professionals, Delbridge said.

"Typically, if the homeowners are out there with chainsaws, we'll talk to them about some basic safety information. This might save somebody's leg," he said. "There are just very easy steps to take that could really minimize injuries."

He recommends people wear protective chapssafety glasses and other gear.

"It's a federal law that commercial tree cutters wear chaps whenever they handle chainsaws on the ground. All the established companies do this," Delbridge said. "The most common injury caused by the chainsaw is an injury to the leg."

These chaps are available at retailers like Lowe's and online. "They are made of material that will stop the chainsaw blade even when it's turning at full speed without even bruising your skin." he said. "Protective glasses will help you avoid eye injuries from flying splinters."

Cutting up a fallen tree is not a DIY project for amateurs. "They might avoid paying the tree cutter some money, but they'll probably end up paying the emergency room," Delbridge said. "It's very dangerous to cut trees, and storm situations are the most dangerous. It really depends on the skill of the owner."

Even those skilled with power tools need to take precautions before tackling a fallen tree. "Whenever trees are down, the first thing to do is look for power lines." Delbridge said. "Believe it or not, trees conduct electricity, and every year there are so many people that are electrocuted by touching a branch that is also touching a live power line."

Delbridge cautioned homeowners to be wary of branches that may be bent beneath a fallen tree. "They can really have a powerful spring effect. Another common injury happens when someone cuts a branch and the tree jumps because they've reduced the weight, and the tree falls on someone. They could lose a leg or their life."

Lataunya Tilstra, an insurance agent with New York Life, said depending on the extent of damage, a homeowner might need several contractors to finish the job. One of her neighbors recently had a tree fall on her house.

"She had to call the tree service first. Then she needed a roofer, and she'll need a builder to rebuild the part of her house that was damaged. So she has several moving parts."

Speaking of insurance claims, most policies cover only damage if the tree falls on a part of the home. "Sometimes the fallen tree can cover your whole yard, and they're not going to help you with a dime of it unless it's actually on a patio, the fence, house or garage," said Corey Cargle, owner of Steve's Tree and Landscape Service in Atlanta.

"I had one homeowner's insurance company turn one of my customers down for a tree that was hit by lightning. It was uprooting, splitting, leaning all over her house and was ready to fall. But they would not approve of any preventive work to remove the tree before it damaged the home," Cargle said. "They basically told (the homeowner) to take care of it or it would be negligent because she knew the tree was about to fall. In hindsight, the homeowner should have waited and let the tree fall on the house I guess, and saved themselves thousands. Insurance companies can be rough."

Cargle recommends you take plenty of pictures. "If it leaves your property and hits someone's home, car or anything else, it's off you. It becomes their tree. A lot of people call us and say, ‘Hey, this tree fell from my neighbors house into our yard, and I want you to give us an estimate and we'll give it to them,’ but it doesn't work like that."

How disasters affect schoolchildren for years afterward

Clearing up physical damage is only part of recovering from a major disaster, according to researchers. Even when the power comes back on and roofs are fixed, a serious human-caused or natural disaster can negatively affect schoolchildren for years.

>> Read more trending news

David Schonfeld, head of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at the University of Southern California, said adults don’t always see how the effects of a disaster can linger with children. 

“People may have died, and there is grief related to that,” Schonfeld said. “Children don’t easily get over it. They don’t forget it. They don’t go back to the way they were before.” 

According to the research, graduation rates and academic performance tend to drop after a disaster. The amount of the drop varies from situation to situation. 

Schonfeld said he told one school administrator the effect of a large disaster was like a runner in a marathon sitting out awhile after hurting her ankle. The runner may keep running -- even running at the same pace -- but time has been lost from sitting out. 

Read more about how children are affected by major storms on myajc.com

3 accused of looting Florida gas station after Irma

Two juveniles and one adult were arrested after allegedly looting a gas station in suburban West Palm Beach, Florida, on Monday morning after Hurricane Irma, according to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

>> Read more trending news

At 8 a.m., two juveniles and 23-year-old Austin Johnson were found by deputies at the Shell gas station 2970 North Military Trail, just north of Palm Beach Lakes and west of Interstate 95. The three were found with cartons of cigarettes and packages of beer and cigars, according to investigators.

The two juveniles, whose ages were not released, were taken to the juvenile detention center and Johnson was taken to the Palm Beach County jail. All three face charges of burglary to a business during a state of emergency and grand theft.

Hurricane Jose weakens, Katia dissipates

The National Hurricane Center upgraded tropical storms Jose and Katia to hurricanes last week as Irma barreled toward the Florida coast. Katia was downgraded Sept. 9. 

>> See the latest on Katia, Jose and Irma 

Hurricane Irma damage: 4 tips for dealing with insurance claims

As Hurricane Irma battered Florida on Sunday and other parts of the Southeast on Monday, the Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier offered these 4 tips for residents whose property has been damaged as a result of the storm.

>> Read more trending news

1. Locate all applicable insurance policies. This may include a homeowners’ policy, flood policy (flood coverage is not covered under a typical homeowners’ policy and is separate coverage) and an automobile policy (may cover damage to your car from flooding).

2. Document all damaged property and belongings. Take photos or shoot video footage before attempting any temporary repairs. When you file an insurance claim, you may be asked for visual documentation of damages. A photographic home inventory is a handy resource for this situation. A free smartphone app developed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners called “MyHome Scr.APP.book” can help you take and store a room-by-room log of photos.

3. Contact your insurance company or insurance agent as soon as possible to report damages.

Insurance policies require prompt reporting of claims, so it is important to act as soon as possible.

>> Related: Hurricane Irma: Live updates

4. Cover damaged areas that may be exposed to the elements in order to prevent further damage.

Your insurance company may reimburse the expense of these temporary repairs, so keep all receipts. Remove water-logged and otherwise damaged items from your house to prevent the spread of mold, but document them and do not dispose of any damaged property until your insurance company adjuster has had an opportunity to survey it.

>> Related: Post-Hurricane Erma destruction: 10 tips for right after storm passes

Post-Hurricane Irma destruction: 10 tips for right after storm passes

Hurricane Irma was downgraded from a Category 5 disaster with 185-mph record-breaking winds to a severe tropical storm as it reached Georgia Monday, only after taking at least 37 lives in the Caribbean, five in Florida and at least one in Georgia.

>> Read more trending news

While the storm weakened over the weekend, Irma is still packing powerful winds and causing flooding, as well as damage to trees and power lines.

But even after the storm passes through your city, it’s imperative that residents and evacuees in Irma-affected areas follow some post-storm tips.

Here are 10 things you should do right after the storm hits or passes:

1. If you’ve experienced flooding, keep all electricity turned off.

Due to possible risk of experiencing electrical shock or fire, it’s recommended that anyone that has experienced flooding not turn on any electricity, especially around appliances that have been wet. 

2. Don’t turn all of your major appliances on at once.

If you haven’t experienced flooding, you should still be sure to turn your major appliances on gradually.

3. Don’t touch any downed wire.

According to Georgia Power, touching downed wire, including telephone or cable TV wires, can kill.

>> Related: Hurricane Irma: Live updates

If you notice any downed wires, immediately inform Georgia Power or your local authorities.

4. Never use generators indoors or outside near windows, vents.

According to Stephen Nelson, Polk County chief medical examiner in Orlando, Florida, the main source of carbon monoxide poisining after hurricanes is the power generator.

“Carbon monoxide poisoning is a huge problem,” he told news outlets.

“Don’t put the generators in your garage to power your house. The generator needs to be outside the house way far away from anything that can suck carbon monoxide into your house.”

More about generator safety here.

5. Don’t step in a puddle.

Georgia Power warns against stepping in any puddles of water after a storm, because they may be electrified. 

>> Related: NASA astronaut captures eerie images of Hurricane Irma’s destruction from space

6. Document all damages.

Take thorough photos and videos of any damage and keep a running list of your damaged items.

7. File an insurance claim for said damages.

Use your documented damages to file an insurance claim. When you contact your insurance company, let them know that you have a full inventory of your damages in hand. 

After you file a claim and the insurance company gets back to you, an insurance adjuster should come to your property to further assess the damage.

Additionally, Paul Holmes of the “Today Show” recommends that when it comes to repairs, focus on emergency repairs and leave the rest for your insurance adjuster to see.

For more questions about insurance policies after a storm, contact your insurance company.

>> Related: Here’s how to know if your food is safe to eat if affected by Hurricane Irma

8. Seek professionals for any electrical repairs.

“Let our crews do the dangerous work,” Georgia Power warns

9. Use protective gear when cleaning up.

Wear work gloves, safety classes, long sleeves and pants and boots if possible.

10. Plan better for the next disaster.

Apply for flood insurance and take other preventative steps, such as keeping a ready kit in hand for evacuations, keeping trees and shrubs trimmed and coming up with a plan for your pets.

U.S. Rep. calls Texas 'no' votes on Harvey relief 'unconscionable'

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, on Monday described as “unconscionable” the vote last week of four Republican colleagues from Texas against a $15.25 billion initial aid package to help state residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

>> Read more trending news

“I don’t want to judge them,” McCaul said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “I judge myself and my conscience and when I have people dying and hurting in my home state, it was my duty and my moral obligation to help them, and I felt that that vote was a vote of conscience to help people in my state and also now in Florida.”

“I think that’s what Americans do and I think it’s unconscionable to vote against something like that,” McCaul said.

The four Texans — Reps. Joe Barton, Jeb Hensarling, Sam Johnson and Mac Thornberry — were among 90 Republicans who voted against the House’s concurrence with the Senate’s larger relief package Friday. None of the four represents districts affected by Harvey.

Republican opponents complained that the aid was linked to a three-month lifting of the debt ceiling.

“I think having to raise the debt ceiling was the issue, and the fact is that Mick Mulvaney is the director of OMB and he was a Freedom Caucus guy when he served with us, and he told us point blank that you could not appropriate disaster relief if you didn’t raise the debt ceiling, so we were stuck with that choice,” McCaul said. “What do you (do) with that choice? Just stand on principle and vote ‘no?’ And I question that principle. Or do you vote to help people back in your home state who are hurting really badly?”

Asked if he expected a competition with Florida for federal disaster help because of Hurricane Irma, McCaul said, “I don’t think you’re going to see some Texas vs. Florida thing. This is going to be an American issue and, if anything, it will bring the Texas and Florida delegations together for that funding.”

Damage from Hurricane Irma? How to navigate your insurance policy

Thousands of homeowners impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey will have to figure out how to deal with insurance claims and all the complicated work that can go along with filing a claim in order to begin rebuilding their lives and their home. 

First, what kind of homeowner’s insurance do you need?

>> Read more trending news

Some policyholders mistakenly think they need to insure their house for its resale value. You should be insuring your house for its replacement value, which is the amount it will take to rebuild the home if it is destroyed by a covered peril, like a hurricane or a tornado.

Your insurance agent will provide you with an estimate, but experts also advise paying a contractor, engineer or a trained appraiser to place the right replacement amount on a house if you do not agree with your agent or company replacement cost amount. Be aware that these expert expenses could be the responsibility of the homeowner.

In the event your home is destroyed, your policy will pay up to the limits on your policy to rebuild your home. Some insurers have what is called an inflation guard contained in the policy. This will increase the amount of insurance on your home by a small amount each year to keep up with inflation.

>> Related: Hurricane Irma: Live updates

Some insurers pay only the replacement value stated in your insurance contract, while others will provide a cushion of up to 25 percent. The replacement estimate may not take into account a surge in demand after a storm that could increase the cost of supplies and labor.

Contents coverage

Florida homeowners are allowed to waive coverage for furnishings and other contents. Some companies also allow consumers to pick the level of contents coverage. Insurers used to give consumers coverage pegged at a certain value of their structure — 50 percent was common — even if their furnishings and belongings were minimal.

Windstorm coverage

Florida statute 627.712 allows homeowners to exclude coverage for wind events in some cases. Most mortgage holders, however, require wind coverage.

To waive wind coverage, a homeowner must provide a letter from their lender that says it is all right with the lender if the insured drops the coverage. The savings from a policy by dropping windstorm coverage could be substantial, up to half of the total premiums paid.

Even so, use caution before dropping the coverage, because it comes with a high risk. It’s not just hurricanes that it covers, but any wind scenario. That would include a tree falling on your house if it did so as a result of a strong wind and not just a hurricane.

>> Related: NASA astronaut captures eerie images of Hurricane Irma’s destruction from space

Raising deductibles

An option that could offer substantial premium savings is raising your deductible. Your mortgage company might be able to veto such a move. Most insurers offer hurricane deductible of $500, 2 percent, 5 percent and 10 percent.

Florida Statute 627.701 allows insurers to offer deductibles beyond the 10 percent, but not all insurers offer larger deductible options. To have a deductible in excess of 10 percent, the home must be valued at less than $500,000 and the policyholder must provide to the insurer a letter, written in his or her own hand, saying what amount in deductible they are willing to pay.

Permission must also be obtained by the mortgage company if applicable. Calculate whether you could make repairs yourself in the event of a catastrophic event. Do you have $30,000 on hand, the amount you would pay if you took a 15 percent deductible, and your house suffered $200,000 worth of damage?

>> Related: Hurricane Irma damage: What to do before, during and after a flood

You will want to check your state's current laws before the storm hits to make sure you are covered after the storm.

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