Dealing with Bay Area storm damage? Here’s what insurance is likely to cover, and what to do if it doesn’t

California’s relentless winter storms over the last couple of weeks have knocked out power lines, downed trees and flooded areas all over the state, with strong winds and pounding rain damaging people’s homes, cars and other property.

If dealing with the aftermath of the storm, there are several ways you may be able to get help for repairs and cleanup.

Insurance

If your home or car has damage from the storm, the first step to take is to document it with photos, even if you aren’t sure it will be covered by insurance.

That documentation can help with the claims process and can help the adjuster in the investigation process once you get there, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Once you’ve documented the damage, you should contact your insurance company, or the agent who sold you the insurance, to find out exactly what your homeowner, renters or auto insurance covers, said Michael Soller, a deputy insurance commissioner at the California Department of Insurance.

Generally speaking, homeowner policies tend to cover some damage from winter storms, particularly from fallen trees, broken fences or even from wind-driven rain or hail that gets inside a home, provided that the source of the damage is the wind, according to insurance company Allstate. .

In the case of fallen trees, you are insured for any damage to your property no matter who owns the tree, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Homeowners’ policies also usually cover the cost of removal of the tree, up to around $500 or $1,000, if that tree hit an insured structure. If a tree falls on your property but didn’t hit a structure, you are likely not covered.

If you have comprehensive auto insurance, which is not required in California but includes coverage for damage, you are also covered if your car is hit by a falling tree or damaged by flooding, Soller said.

If you don’t have comprehensive auto coverage, you should still contact your insurance company, he added, as they may be able to file a claim against the tree owner’s insurance.

But there are some gaps in what might be covered. Homeowner policies typically do not include coverage for floods, mudslides or debris flow, so you may not be covered for any flood damage or water backup from an outside sewer or drain, according to Allstate.

But there is a caveat, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara said in a press release. If the flood or mudslide was caused directly or indirectly by a recent wildfire or another covered peril, the state requires insurance companies to cover the damage.

But for those affected by flooding who are not covered, buying insurance now won’t help, Soller said, as flood policies don’t kick in for 30 days and are not retroactive.

Homeowners may also have some coverage for damage from power outages, including reimbursement for food loss, especially if the outage is caused by a covered risk like a fallen tree in a storm, Allstate’s website said.

Soller said it’s worth checking with your insurance on what exactly is covered and in what cases, and whether it makes sense to file a claim for those losses, given your deductible.

“There may be a lower deductible in some cases,” he said, while “a full homeowner’s policy may have a higher deductible than just a claim for spoiled food or other losses.”

Soller said that if you’re running into any problems or questions about what your homeowners, renters or auto insurance covers, contact the Department of Insurance at 800-927-4357 or through their website, insurance.ca.gov.

“There’s a lot of questions people always have after a disaster like this,” he said. “We can help you figure out where to start.”

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. also has a program called Safety Net that may pay from $25 to $100 to some residential customers who lose power for more than 48 hours due to severe events like storms.

State and federal aid

For those with damage outside of what insurance covers, government aid may be available, Soller said.

To see whether you might qualify, Soller said, contact your local government’s office of emergency management, which should be coordinating other assistance.

However, as it stands now, it is unclear how much state aid is or will be directly available to the general public. The California Office of Emergency Services did not respond to questions on Tuesday.

At this time, federal aid is not available to the general public, said Robert Barker, a spokesperson for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Under the current emergency declaration approved by President Biden, FEMA is authorized to help alleviate the impacts of the emergency on things like public infrastructure once damage has been assessed and the state determines that it has “exhausted its own capabilities,” he said.

That means FEMA can cover 75% of the cost of getting other agencies to help do things like clear debris from roadways, remove hazardous waste or establish and operate emergency relief distribution centers, if the state is unable to do so on its own.

In order for federal assistance to be available directly to individuals, a major disaster declaration would need to be approved, he said. That could happen if local governments collect information about damage from individuals, and submit that information to the state, which could then use it to support a request to the federal government.

Community help

In the meantime, many communities are setting up funds to help their neighbors recover from the storms. Crowdfunding website GoFundMe has set up a page with verified fundraisers for people affected by California storms.

Among them, San Mateo Mayor Amourence Lee has set up a flood relief GoFundMe page for the city.

“Too many San Mateo residents and business owners are struggling after the storm. Many have incurred thousands of dollars in damages to their homes and businesses, losing irreplaceable heirlooms and years of investments,” Lee wrote on the fundraising site.

“We cannot wait for FEMA or the State, we need to step up when we see our neighbors and our local businesses in need.”

Danielle Echeverria is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: danielle.echeverria@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @DanielleEchev