House and Senate committee hearings on IRS screening
of Tea Party tax-exempt applications set for May 21 & 22
Tornado-ravaged areas of Oklahoma declared major disasters, leading to special tax relief from IRS

Helping Oklahoma tornado survivors, planning for the next natural disaster

It is that horrid time of year. Instead of enjoying the return of welcome warm weather, we're watching the tragic aftermath of Mother Nature's fury.

As everyone knows by now, what will likely turn out to be the second category F5 tornado in 14 years devastated Moore, Okla., a suburb of Oklahoma City, on Monday, May 20, afternoon.

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But while Moore residents took the hardest hit, that city isn't the only one that must rebuild. Over the last four days, more than 50 tornadoes have been reported in Oklahoma, Kansas and into the Midwest. People are bracing for additional outbreaks today.

And on Sunday, May 19, afternoon, 35 miles southeast of Oklahoma City a deadly twister roared through Shawnee, Okla.

Now we're dealing with the tornadoes' tragedies. People have died. Many more have lost their homes and businesses. They've got to start over.

Ready and wanting to help: As neighbors -- and I'm not just talking about us Texans or Kansans or Arkansans or Missourians who've also seen our share of deadly twisters, but all Americans -- we naturally want to help in any way possible.

A friend commented that she just wanted to get in her car and drive up there to do what she could. That's a laudable sentiment, but don't. They have officials and volunteer groups who, sadly, are very experienced in dealing with the physical devastation of deadly storms.

Also, don't send clothing. While way too many folks have only the clothes they were wearing when the tornadoes hit, most charities' disaster operations are not equipped to store and distribute clothing and other household goods. 

Instead, donate money to a charity that will get the help to the folks who need it. Your cash will allow on-the-ground volunteers to buy supplies, materials, fuel for emergency vehicles and food. 

Many charities from which to choose: The two largest national charities, American Red Cross and Salvation Army, have specific funds for disasters.

You can contribute at:

  • The groups' websites by clicking the links above.
  • By calling the charities.

    Red Cross can be reached at 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or 1-800-257-7575 for Spanish speakers or the TDD line for hearing impaired at 1-800-220-4095.

    The Salvation Army's phone number is 1-800-SAL-ARMY (1-800-725-2769).
  • By texting to make a $10 donation. For a Red Cross donation, text REDCROSS to 90999. To donate to the Salvation Army text STORM to 80888.

On a more local basis, the United Way of Central Oklahoma is accepting online donations. If you prefer to send a check, make it payable to United Way of Central Oklahoma and mail it to P.O. Box 837, Oklahoma City, OK  73101 with the notation "May Tornado Relief."

You can donate online to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma or give $10 by cell phone by texting FOOD to 32333.

You can find more donation options at KFOR-TV, Huffington Post, Penny Pinchin' Mom and CNN.

Prepare for disaster: Again, it's that time of year.

Tornado season is in full force. Even if twisters don't form, the storms can produce dangerous high winds, hail, flooding rains and lightning.

Wildfires are popping up in places that haven't seen any rain in way too long.

And the Atlantic hurricane season starts on June 1.

The bottom line is that no place is immune from disaster. The best we can do is prepare, both physically and financially.

On the money side:

  • Make sure your home and auto insurance coverage is adequate and up to date.
  • Double check what your medical policy covers in case, God forbid, you're injured in a disaster.
  • Have a credit card with a decent balance available to cover post-disaster costs.
  • Gather key financial documents to take with you if you must evacuate. This includes not only the previously mentioned insurance info, but also your other important financial documents, such as investment and bank account statements
  • Take an inventory of your home, both the items inside and your surrounding property, in case you have to file claims for disaster damage.

Tax help after a disaster: And, of course, your financial documents should include copies of your tax records.

If you are in a presidentially declared disaster area -- which is what Moore and other areas of Oklahoma have now been designated -- you might be able to take advantage of tax-related disaster relief when you file your return next year of by amending your prior year's tax return to get help sooner.

All of our preparations, however, are no safeguard when an actual disaster looms. So most importantly, listen to public safety officials and if they say get out, get out!

Tax deduction for gifts: Finally, although it's far from being at the top of anyone's mind right now, I must remind you that if you do donate to a charity to help victims of the rash of tornadoes, your gift could be deducted on your tax return if you itemize.

I know that's not why anyone is giving today. But it might be worth considering at a calmer time, like when you're doing your taxes next year.

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