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After a Disaster

Returning home following a disaster can be both physically and mentally challenging.  Above all, use caution.  You may be anxious to see your property, but do not return home before local officials say it is safe to return.  Take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones during cleanup after a hurricane, flood, or other natural disaster.  

Recovering from a disaster is usually a gradual process.  Safety is a primary issue, as are mental and physical well-being.  If assistance is available, knowing how to access it makes the process faster and less stressful.  Your first concern is your family's health and safety.   Here is some general advice on steps to take after disaster strikes in order to begin getting your home, your community, and your life back to normal.  Remember that recovering from a disaster is a gradual process.

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 Returning Home:  

  • Be aware of new safety issues created by the disaster: 

    • Washed out roads, contaminated buildings, contaminated water, gas leaks, and broken glass

    • Wild and stray animals, especially poisonous snakes and floating fire ant mounds  

  • Once you return home, walk carefully around the outside and check for loose power lines, broken pipes, and structural damage.  If you have any doubts about safety, have your residence inspected by a qualified building inspector or structural engineer before entering.  Do not enter your damaged home if:

    • You smell gas.

    • Floodwaters remain around the building.

    • Authorities have not declared it safe to enter.

  • Watch out for damaged electrical wiring and slippery floors indoors.  

  • Inform local authorities about any fuel or chemical spills, downed power lines, washed out roads, smoldering insulation, and dead animals.

Post-Disaster Damage:

  • Let your local officials know of any damages you may have, and what immediate assistance you may need, such as food and shelter.

  • If you have property damage, you must file a claim with your insurance company.

  • Make sure to document all your damages – before you clean up, take photos and make a list.

  • Save all your receipts for post-damage repair and clean-up costs.

 Safety Tips for Clean-Up:

  • Decide which cleanup tasks are most important, and focus on those first.  That way, you're less likely to be overwhelmed.

  • Wear protective gloves, footwear, eye protection, and clothing.

  • If water has been present anywhere near electrical circuits, turn off the power at the main breaker or fuse on the service panel. Do not turn the power back on until electrical equipment has been inspected by a qualified electrician.

  • When using a generator to supply power to a building, switch the main breaker to "off" prior to starting the generator.  This will prevent inadvertent energizing of power lines and protect utility line workers from possible electrocution.  

  • Get help lifting heavy or bulky objects.  Have teams of at least two people work together, and take rest breaks.  

  • 36,000 chainsaw-related injuries occur each year.  Don't operate a chainsaw without the proper safety gear and training on precautions and cutting techniques.  Make sure bystanders remain a safe distance away.  Click HERE for more Chainsaw Safety Tips

 Stay Safe and Informed:

  • Keep a battery-powered radio with you for emergency updates from local officials.

  • Monitor family health and well-being throughout the clean-up and recovery process.

CDC graphic of food items to discard after a flood to prevent infectious disease from contamination, and how to sanitize surfaces with a solution of 1 tablespoon of bleach in 1 gallon of water
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