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Take action to replace destroyed documents

Hurricane Katrina claimed many homes on the Gulf Coast, taking with her valuable financial and personal documents that families will want to replace.

Bobbie Shaffett, Mississippi State University Extension Service family resource management specialist, said knowing where to look for help can make this job easier and quicker.

“Victims of this hurricane may be too overwhelmed to even consider all the things they lost when their homes were destroyed,” Shaffett said. “But once they start to put their lives back together, they will need to replace their financial documents — things like income tax returns, vehicle titles, wills and health records — and their personal documents, such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, Social Security cards and driver's licenses.”

Shaffett said hurricane victims should contact their insurance agents or companies immediately to get copies of insurance policies, recent billing statements and related information.

“Once you have your insurance situation under control, you might begin thinking about replacing other documents,” Shaffett said.

Find a complete list of important documents that may need to be replaced and information on how to replace them at

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommended hurricane victims take the following steps as soon as they are able:

  • Contact creditors for copies of loan applications and statements.
  • Order copies of credit reports at, or contact a local credit bureau or call (877) 322-8228.
  • Contact the Internal Revenue Service or the state tax hotline for copies of tax records and filings for the past three years.
  • Order a duplicate Social Security card by downloading an application at, by calling (800) 772-1213 or by visiting the local Social Security office.

In some coastal counties, people may have had valuable papers stored at locations that were destroyed by the hurricane. Susan Cosgrove, an Extension family resource management area agent based in Newton, Miss., said it is possible that some valuable documents are gone for good.

“There are some things that we may not be able to replace. Check with agencies to see if they had a back-up system for storing information,” Cosgrove said. “The magnitude of this disaster shows how unprepared the entire country was, and it should serve as a wake-up call for us.”

Cosgrove said that as technology develops, more secure ways to store information may help prevent problems in future disasters. For now, families should use currently available methods of protecting their valuable records.

“The total losses many Coast residents are facing can serve as a reminder of how important it is to be prepared for the unexpected,” Cosgrove said. “A home safe that is designed to withstand fire, floods and other damage is a good place to keep important papers. If you have a safe deposit box at a bank, keep copies of these documents there, too.”

If the home safe is not waterproof, place important documents in a waterproof bag and place it inside the safe. Consider using a small safe that could be transported easily during an emergency evacuation.

Cosgrove recommended keeping the following items in a home safe or safe deposit box:

  • Adoption papers.
  • Birth, death and marriage certificates.
  • Educational records.
  • Insurance policies.
  • Military service papers.
  • Passports.
  • Property deeds.
  • Social Security cards.
  • Stock certificates.
  • U.S. savings bonds.

“You might also want to make photocopies of these documents to give to a trusted family member or friend who lives in a different location,” Cosgrove said.

Keryn Page writes for Mississippi State University Ag Communications.

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