The floodwaters in Iowa have crested and begun to recede, but they’ll leave a swath of devastation in their wake. Trent at The Simple Dollar — who lives near the flooding — recently shared a list of seven things you can do to help flood victims. But Elisabeth wants to know what these people can do to help themselves. She writes:

I live in eastern Iowa (yes, you’ve seen my town on TV recently), and while we are high and dry, that’s not true of many of my neighbors. One friend will be staying on-and-off in my guest room as well as in others’ homes until perhaps October or November. Her house has been completely flooded and will need significant repair.

Many people have been very seriously affected by this “500-year flood”. Mortgage brokers not only didn’t require flood insurance for many areas that are now underwater, they actively discouraged it. “There wasn’t any water in this area in 1993, and that was a 100-year flood,” they said. As a result, many people don’t have insurance.

All of this makes me wonder: When faced with natural disasters or catastrophic health problems or other insurance calamities, how does one continue to get rich slowly? Or, at the very least, avoid getting poor quickly?

Obviously the best way to cope with a disaster — natural or otherwise — is to prepare in advance: set aside an emergency fund and obtain insurance. But what if you did not or could not prepare? Or what if your preparations were inadequate? What can be done if your home is flooded or if you’re crippled in a car crash? How do people cope with financial calamities without insurance? (How do they cope even with insurance?)

According to a recent article in the Indiana Star Press, if you don’t purchase flood insurance and the waters rise, you have little recourse. You’ll have to pay for the loss yourself. The same is true for most other financial catastrophes.

Regardless of your insurance status, you should apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance in the case of a natural disaster. FEMA’s web site contains information about recovering from a disaster, including publications about the first steps to take after a flood and repairing a flooded home.

Also, the American Red Cross offers an online brochure entitled “Disaster Recovery: A Guide to Financial Issues”. This is an excellent resource, and I recommend it to anyone recovering from a financial disaster. It includes tips on restoring household stability, stabilizing your finances, and managing a property loss. Though some of its advice is specific to natural disasters, much of it is applicable to other circumstances. All the same, it doesn’t offer any specific tips for those who are uninsured.

Do you have experience coping with a natural disaster? A medical disaster? How did you deal with the financial burden? What advice would you offer somebody just beginning the process? Are there resources these people can tap?

Photo by Soldiers Media Center. There are some amazing photos of the flooding at Big Picture.

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