After a major storm, many of us will be going back home to clean up and check on our belongings. Traveling to an area that was affected by a natural disaster can pose many hazards, so keep your family and friends safe with these tips.
- Do not attempt to return home until local officials say it is safe to do so.
- Keep a battery-powered radio with you so you can listen for emergency updates and news reports.1
- On your way home, watch for fallen objects and downed electrical wires as well as weakened walls, bridges, roads and sidewalks.1 Beware electrical hazards: never touch overhead power lines, and avoid buildings, cars or other items that are touching fallen power lines.
- Pace yourself. Set priorities, try not to do too much at once and take a break if you feel exhaustion coming on. Try to recruit a team of people to help you.
- Stay hydrated and eat well.
- Wash your hands often when working with debris.
- Wear protective clothing.
- Keep your children and pets away from flood water, wet or damaged materials, and leaking or spilled chemicals.
- Avoid contact with flood water in and around your home. Assume flood water is contaminated with raw sewage or hazardous chemicals and act accordingly.
- Use flashlights or other battery-operated lights instead of candles. Note: Turn on the flashlight outside before entering your home as the battery may produce a spark that could ignite any leaking gas1.
- Inform local authorities about health and safety issues, including chemical spills, downed power lines, washed out roads, smoldering insulation and dead animals.
Inspecting Your Home:
Before You Enter
- Check the outside of your home. Damage on the outside can be a sign of a serious problem inside. Look for:
- Downed power lines
- Damaged gas lines
- Structural damage like cracks, missing support beams, bulges, and leaning walls or roof lines
- Foundation damage
- Do not enter if:1
- You smell gas.
- Floodwaters remain around the building.
- Your home was damaged by fire and the authorities have not declared it safe.
- You see roof, foundation or chimney cracks. If the building looks unstable, leave immediately.
- Be on the lookout for animals. It is possible that animals such as rodents, spiders, snakes and insects may have entered your home or are present in the surrounding area. Use a stick to poke through debris and tap loudly and often on the floor. Be sure to wear snake proof boots that are at least 10 inches high.
- Turn off main electrical power and water systems and gas lines. If water is present, call an electrician; do not try to turn off the power yourself. If the main disconnect is inside your home, contact your utility company for help.
Entering Your Home
- If the door is jammed, don’t force it open. It might be supporting the rest of your home.
- Watch out for broken glass and slippery floors.
- When opening cabinets, be alert for objects that might fall.1
- Look out for damage:
- Be cautious around damaged objects like furniture or stairs as they might be unstable. Avoid holding, pushing or leaning against damaged items and structures.
- If your ceiling is sagging, it’s wet , heavy and dangerous. If you try to knock it down, be careful: wear eye protection and a hard hat, use a long stick, and stand away from the damaged area. Starting from the outside of the sagging area, poke holes in the ceiling to let water slowly drain.
- Do not walk on a sagging floor. Small sections can be bridged by thick plywood or thick boards that extend at least 8-12 inches on each side of the area.
Be on the alert for any household chemicals, like bleach or cleaners, that may have spilled or leaked. Follow these precautions when dealing with household chemicals:
- Keep children and pets away
- Do not combine chemicals. Clean up and dispose of chemicals separately, even if you know what they are.
- Do not dump cleaners, paint, or other chemicals down drains, sewers or toilets.
- Do not try to burn chemicals
- Clearly mark and set aside undamaged containers until they can be properly disposed of.
- Whenever possible, leave damaged or unlabeled chemical containers undisturbed
Visit the EPA for more information on chemical safety.
When entering a wet home, there is a strong chance you will be dealing with mold. Exposure to mold can trigger allergic reactions and asthma attacks, suppress the immune system or have other effects, so it’s very important that you limit your exposure.
- Remove standing water as quickly as possible.
- Wear gloves, goggles, an N-95 respirator (if available) or a dust mask.
- Seal off moldy areas and use a fan to draw air to the outdoors.
- Ideally within 48 hours, or as soon as it’s safe, remove and discard materials that cannot be cleaned and dried. Absorbent moldy or sewage-contaminated materials, such as insulation, carpet/carpet pad, ceiling tiles, processed wood products and paper, should be removed, bagged and thrown away. Cover moldy material with plastic to contain spores before removal.
- For items that can be dried and cleaned: disinfect and wash all surfaces that came in contact with floodwater. Dry with paper towels to minimize bacterial contamination.
Visit FEMA for more information on mold.
Asbestos and Lead
If you live in an older home, you may be at risk of exposure to airborne asbestos or lead dust, which can cause serious health risks. Lead-based paint is more likely to be present in homes build before 1978 , and storms and storm cleanup can result in elevated levels of lead dust in these homes.
Materials in homes built before 1970 are more likely to contain asbestos, which can lead to increased levels of airborne asbestos during a storm. Asbestos-containing materials may be present in these forms:
- Thermal, fireproofing and acoustical insulation materials
- Resilient floor tiles
- Roofing felt
As you return home, be sure to make safety your first priority. If you have any doubts, wait to contact local officials that can help.
Check out our other resources for restoring your home after a storm:
Cleaning Up After A Storm
After The Flood: Outlets And Switches
How To Care For Your Home’s Gas Systems After A Flood