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Returning to Your Home after a Natural Disaster

If you have been evacuated from your home for any type natural disaster, you need to follow some safety precautions when you return to it. Follow these general guidelines for getting back underway after an emergency:

  • Deal cautiously with structural damage, watching for physical dangers, ranging from broken glass and nails to water and wet surfaces that may be electrically charged after power resumes. According to the American Red Cross, the number-two flood killer after drowning is electrocution. Electrical current can travel through water. Report downed power lines to your utility company or emergency management office.

  • Use a flashlight to inspect for damage. Don't smoke or use candles, lanterns, or open flames, unless you know the gas has been turned off and the area has been aired out.

  • Prevent deadly carbon monoxide poisoning by using a generator or other gasoline-powered machine outdoors. The same goes for camping stoves and charcoal grills.

  • Some appliances, such as televisions, keep electrical charges even after they have been unplugged. Don't use appliances or motors that have gotten wet unless they've been taken apart, cleaned, and dried.

  • Watch for snakes and wild animals that have been flooded out of their homes and may seek shelter in yours.

  • Discard contaminated foods and kitchen and bath products.

  • Boil drinking water until you're absolutely sure that it's safe.

  • Pump out flooded areas in your home as soon as possible to avoid permanent damage to the house's frame.

  • Pump out flooded basements slowly over the course of several days to prevent the basement walls from caving in due to the excessive pressure being placed on the walls from water-logged soil on the opposite side.

  • If hardwood floors get soaked, mop up excess water and debris immediately and dry the floors slowly to reduce warping. Don't use heat for drying. Open windows and doors and allow finishes to air-dry. Rent a high-volume fan such as those used by professional carpet cleaners to hasten the drying process.

    Drying finishes out too quickly can cause warping, buckling, and cracking that can be avoided if finishes are allowed to air-dry more slowly.

  • If carpeting gets soaked, don't remove it while it's wet — doing so can cause tearing. Instead, pick up excess water with a wet/dry vac or carpet cleaning machine, slowly peel back wet carpet, and discard the padding. Then set up a box fan or two to dry the area completely. In most cases, carpets can be cleaned and reused; just the padding needs to be replaced.

  • Have a professional check all plumbing and service your septic tank, if you have one.

  • Call your insurance agent to begin the claims process.

For more information about disaster preparedness and recovery, visit the American Red Cross website.

When dealing with an emergency situation, after immediate dangers are dealt with and relatively under control, take photos to record all damage to your home and its contents for insurance purposes. All too often, taking photos only comes to mind once cleanup and repairs are well underway.

Also, keep emergency gear close at hand, including a pair of sturdy shoes (to prevent injuries from rubble and broken glass), heavy socks, heavy work gloves, and clothing for keeping warm and dry for an extended period, both day and night.

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