Updated Jan. 11, 1:21 p.m.
The high winds accompanying the storm systems moving through the Sacramento region haven’t just caused power outages, due to downed power lines. They’ve also felled trees, which has already proven deadly.
With consistent rain saturating the soil, “it actually takes less for some of these big trees to come down,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Cory Mueller on Insight Monday. “Those winds [from the weekend] were very effective and caused tons of issues across the area.”
Insurance companies are seeing those issues: For example, Californians have already filed over 6,000 home and auto insurance claims to State Farm, beginning with the aftermath of the inclement weather during New Year’s weekend. State Farm representative Amy Harris said as of Tuesday, Sacramento County makes up most of those claims, at around 1,400.
“The other top counties are Los Angeles, Alameda and San Joaquin,” she said. “It’s just been catastrophic across the state.”
There have also been over 1,000 reports of downed trees in the city of Sacramento since the New Year’s storm. City spokesperson Gabby Miller said in the 48 hours between Saturday and Monday, Sacramento had gotten around 500 reports of downed trees — the number it usually gets in a month.
Miller said the city will address “life safety” trees and concerns first, then move on to clearing roadways. If a private homeowner’s tree falls on their house, she said, it’s their responsibility to address it. And, she added, a full clean-up is going to take time.
“This is going to take a matter of weeks for us to fully see the entire city cleaned up,” Miller said. “We're asking for patience everywhere across the city.”
So what should you do — and not do — if a tree falls onto your house, apartment or car?
DO: Report the downed tree.
Here are the numbers for Sacramento, San Joaquin and Yolo counties:
Sacramento County: Call 311 or report damage via the 311 website.
Yolo County: Call 211.
San Joaquin County:
- Tracy: Call 209-831-6300 or, if after hours, 209-831-6550. Reports can also be made via the GoRequest app or by emailing [email protected].
- Stockton: Call 209-937-8341.
- Lathrop: Call Public Works at 209-941-7430 or Maintenance Services (streets, roads and parks) at 209-941-7372 or, if after hours, 209-992-0028. Reports can also be made via the website and the Lathrop Cares app (iPhone | Android)
- Lathrop Irrigation District: Residents in the River Islands Master Planned Community can call 209-888-4799 or, if after hours, 209-561-1428.
- Lodi: Call 209-368-5735 (choose option 2).
- Manteca: Call 209-456-8101. Reports can also be made via the City of Manteca GoGov app (iPhone | Android)
- Unincorporated County: Call 209-468-3074.
If you’re a renter, also report the damage to your property manager.
Additionally, Sacramento County is asking people with storm-related damage to their homes or businesses to report it online to the county’s Office of Emergency Services, in order to assess the full extent of damage in the county.
DON’T: Wait to find a contractor to help with tree removal.
Allstate Insurance Company agent Danny Day said he advises people to contact a contractor to help with tree removal, whether via referral from friends and family or through an individual search — before a team goes out to the site to appraise the damage and gives a quote for how much it will cost to repair.
That can help expedite the process, especially during weather events like storms, when there are high volumes of people who are seeking repairs.
“As soon as they know that there's a problem, try to find the person that can help them fix the problem, whether it's a contractor or body shop, or a tree removal service, whatever it is that they need,” Day said. “Getting in line with those contractors as quick as possible is going to be your best bet.”
DO: Contact your insurance company as soon as possible — and take pictures of the damage.
Representatives from State Farm and Allstate both say that, regardless of your insurance provider, because everyone’s policy is different, the next step after damage has been done to your home or car is to reach out to your insurance agent to clarify what your home or auto insurance policy covers.
“Call your agent right away and file a claim if you need to,” said Harris, the State Farm representative. “Pictures always help expedite the process as well, if you can prove the damage and show what has been done.”
If you have to buy a tarp to keep rain from coming through the roof, she added, or make other temporary repairs, keep the receipts so insurance will be able to reimburse them.
Given that agents are seeing more calls right now, Day from Allstate recommended that people visit their insurance company’s website and file a claim online if they’re having trouble reaching someone on the phone.
Several insurance companies have a specialized team to handle claims resulting from weather events like storms:
DON’T: Assume your neighbor is liable for paying damages if their tree fell on your property.
Harris said the only reason one’s neighbor would be on the hook if their tree fell and caused damage to your home or car would be if they were proven to be negligent: for example, the tree was already dead before the storm, and they failed to remove it. Their insurance company would then be responsible for paying for damage and repairs.
“Otherwise, it’s your responsibility if your neighbor’s tree falls on your property,” she said.
If you’re unsure what your policy covers, you can also call the California Department of Insurance hotline for more information at 800-927-4357, where the wait is “less than a minute,” said Tony Cignarale, the department’s deputy commissioner of consumer services.
“We’ll help people go through their policy and help them understand their coverages,” Cignarale said. “Did they have just liability coverage? Did they also have collision and comprehensive comprehensive coverage, for example, which would cover flood damage to your car or a tree falling on your car?”
DO: Call 911 if there’s a downed power line wrapped in the tree.
Miller, with the city of Sacramento, urged people to treat a downed power line wrapped in a tree as an emergency.
“Don’t touch those, especially if they’re wrapped up in a tree,” she said. “Assume that it would still be live.”
Two of the utilities that serve the region, PG&E and SMUD, ask people to evacuate the area immediately if there’s a downed power line, and also report the downed line via 1-800-743-5000 for PG&E or 1-888-456-7683 for SMUD.
And in general, officials say, depending on where the tree lands on your home — for example, If there’s internal damage to your home from the downed tree — or if you generally feel unsafe, it’s better to evacuate than to stay in place.
SMUD spokesperson Lindsay VanLandingham identified downed utility poles and wires as a chief safety concern.
“Don’t attempt to remove any debris from the wires,” she said Monday on Insight. “We want you to call 911. And we want you to report it to us, so we’ll get a crew out there to make sure it’s safe, keep people away and repair that as quickly as we can.
DON’T: Try to remove the tree yourself.
“We want to keep people safe,” Miller said. “We don’t want them trying to move large trees out of the street or anything like that.”
If the tree has also taken down a power line, she said, there’s a chance it could still be live, creating a dangerous situation.