Advice from Raleigh storm victim: Take photos of belongings

Posted August 1, 2013

— Taking photos on your camera or cellphone to catalog every item in your home may seem like a hassle, but it could save you a lot of trouble if disaster strikes.

In April 2011, when a tornado blasted through Raleigh, Joe Stiles lost his family's home and a lifetime of memories.

"The power went out, and I heard the whooshing on the side of the house and I thought, 'Oh no,'" Stiles said. "I turned and ran, and my wife jumped on top of the kids, and I jumped on top of her. We were all on the floor as the house was lifted up."

The family escaped the rubble safely, but most of their belongings were lost forever.

"We were in shock. I mean, what do you do?" Stiles said. "You would think that you just go through and pull things out, but no, you had to dig through, and more things were unrecognizable."

The Stiles now have a safety deposit box to keep important documents secure. They also regularly back up computer files now, after realizing how stored documents can be destroyed in an instant.

But the most important thing the Stiles say they learned is to have adequate insurance coverage and to keep it up to date.

Joe Stiles Storm victim has practical advice for rebuilding life from rubble

"We listened to our insurance company," Stiles said. "We reviewed our coverage probably every other year and so, we were appropriately covered for when something happened."

The Stiles took a lump sum settlement. Considering the mess left behind in the kitchen alone, they were glad they didn't have to itemize every dish, shirt and towel they owned.

"It was just waist deep in pots, pans, dishes – everything out of the cabinets," Stiles said. "Some folks in the neighborhood had to walk room by room, or imagine walking into a room and looking around and seeing everything. That's incredibly difficult to do."

Stiles' advice is to take pictures of everything you own. Go room to room, opening cabinet and closet doors and drawers, documenting what's inside. 

"You never think it's going to happen to you," Stiles said. 

While the family prays this devastation never happens again, if it does, they'll be much better prepared.


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  • whatelseisnew Aug 2, 2013

    I might take photos, I just hope the adjustor does not laugh at the old worn out stuff I own.

  • whatelseisnew Aug 2, 2013

    I have a policy that provides replacement value as opposed to the typical getting a depreciated value on something. I do wish I could eliminate some of the things that are included in the policy, for instance FURS. I have no furs, have never had furs other than a cat and he insists on keeping his fur.

  • superman Aug 2, 2013

    Pictures, records etc should be done in the event of a fire or a breakin or numerous other things. Kinda unusual for a tornato so this advice is just standard for every household. I have a list of my tools, computers etc that has the serial numbers, date of purchase and the amount. Receipts are stapled to the warranty informatio. Each item information is in a 5 x 8 envelope. This also is helpful when you have something that dies before the warranty expires. Keeping good records is just a good mature adult activity. Dont forget to safely store income tax records. I have done my home bill paying on the computer for about 12 years so I have 12 years of bill paying.

  • common tater Aug 2, 2013

    lay everything valuable out and take a single video of the entire house...that will prevent the moving/duplicate fraud question

  • gobbledygook Aug 2, 2013

    venitapeyton makes a good point with the serial numbers.

  • gobbledygook Aug 2, 2013

    Although pictures do help to your advantage, they are not always accepted, the best bet is to keep receipts along with those pictures... we always get people who move TV's to different areas, different stickers, and put different covers on iPads and laptops to make them look like multiple possessions.

  • jdupree Aug 2, 2013

    Good advice!

  • venitapeyton Aug 1, 2013

    And rather than plan it later, folks should use their cell phone's camera to take pictures NOW! Later - they can take closer up photos with serial and model numbers of their electronics. Their their children/grandchildren can make a game of it - and later do serious room by room cateloging.

    Also the time to use a system like Carbonite to back up files completely, in case the computer is rendered completely useless.