Our finances are so fragile that they can be devastated in one day, through one mistake. You could save up studiously only to have a car accident or natural disaster take away years of savings. But where does that money go? If it goes out of your household in one day, it must go into someone else's pocket. Some of these jobs require years of experience, but when a disaster occurs, eager workers are usually needed. Disasters don't care where the economy is, they just happen, and someone gets paid. If you want to be the one to collect, take a look at these jobs. (If you've been a victim, your losses may be deductible. Find out how, in Deducting Disaster: Casualty And Theft Losses.)
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  1. Car Mechanic
    There are car mechanics that fix up old classics, there are some who do regular maintenance, but the ones who cash in on disasters work at the auto body. Almost every car accident will need outside body repair. Depending on how many panels are damaged and the paint required, the repair bill can reach over $10,000. It's amazing that body repairs could easily surpass the sale price of the car.

    Automotive body and related repairers had a mean annual wage of $41,020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2009. Rhode Island has the highest concentration of mechanics, with 1.765 employed per 1,000 workers, and Alaska has the highest mean annual wage at $56,920.

  2. Hail Storm Chasers
    In one day, the right hail storm over the wrong city destroys every skyward surface on every car. There are hail storm chasers with the right tools and a portable work station following the insurance claims. Paintless dent repair (PDR) can cost in the hundreds of dollars per panel. If this is cheaper than the auto body replacing the part, insurance companies prefer it.

    When all is said and done, those in this line of work can take in $50,000-80,000 per year, depending on how motivated they are. Very few tools are required, but they do need to be able to travel on a moment's notice, and the competition makes sure they put in long hours when they get there. This is approximately a nine-month season, unless they are willing to travel internationally, so actual wages are difficult to pinpoint.

  3. Flood Clean Up
    According to the National Weather Service, the approximate average damage due to flooding in the U.S. was $10.3 billion between 1999-2008. Taking out 2005's $48.3 billion Katrina and Rita blip, the nine-year average is still over $6 billion per year. This is adjusted for the effects of inflation in construction prices.

    Cleanup is one essential job when a disaster hits any town. Hurricanes, floods and earthquakes leave families stuck waiting for insurance companies to begin the cleanup. Depending on the severity, crews could be on-location for weeks, and just one inch of water in a house can cost over $7,000 in repairs in an average home. Carpets, flooring, demolition, drywall and sanitization all require a team of individuals to complete.

    The contractors are usually a team of one or two highly skilled builders and several laborers. The laborers will not make as much (between $8-10 per hour), but if you learn the skills you could start assembling your own team of workers and accepting contracts from insurers. (It is important to prepare for both large-scale and small-scale natural disasters so that, when the damage is done, you have the means to pick up the pieces. Check out Preparing For Nature's Worst.)

  4. Environmental Disasters
    The BP (NYSE:BP) oil spill cleanup was estimated to be $11.2 billion as of September 29, 2010. This includes shore cleanup, containment, relief well drilling, federal costs and claims paid, according to BP. Well drillers and engineers on the project had as much work as they could handle. Back on June 7, 2010, BP estimated 2,600 vessels involved in the effort, which included tugs, skimmers and barges. The work didn't last long, but the workers and the owners made money in the disaster.

    The lowest skilled workers will make about $10 per hour, but qualified community responders can make around $18 per hour with managers making around $32 per hour. Engineers can make much more when large projects such as the well head cap needed to be completed as soon as possible.

  5. Adjusters
    The insurance companies need individuals to give proper estimates on the damage and the potential costs. Adjusters go in before the repairs start, and gather evidence, research the costs, and approve repairs. In some cases, public adjusters can also be hired by the claimants as a second opinion. The two options are to do this as a second job, usually in the same field they currently work or as a full-time staff adjuster. For example, a mechanic with his own shop could also be an independent adjuster, but using his current experience and obtaining a claims adjusters license (if required in the state).

    The national estimated median annual wage was $57,130 for claims adjusters, examiners and investigators, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of a May, 2009 survey. The District of Columbia paid the highest annual mean wage, at $77,180. Insurance appraisers specifically for auto damage made a little less, with an average median wage of $56,180. Alabama workers have the highest average annual wage of $71,390, but they also has the highest concentration of workers.

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Identify the Need
Many of these big disaster expenses have been identified and insured against, but the insurance company is going to pay a large amount to someone. One person's set back could also be several workers' incomes. Identify the need and fill it if you can. (If you can't predict the future, you'll need to plan ahead to protect your assets from the impact of major world events. See A Disaster-Protection Plan For Your Portfolio.)

For the latest financial news, see Water Cooler Finance: History's Biggest Rogue Trading Scandal.

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