Returning Home After a Hurricane
Returning home after a major disaster can be emotionally devastating and physically dangerous. As you return, be prepared for both. As you return, make certain you follow the instructions given by your local authorities — their job is to keep you safe and they may not allow you to return to your home immediately after the hurricane leaves the area. Obey all health regulations provided for your personal and community protection.
Watch our “After a Flood” video playlist on YouTube for more guidance.
As you return, be cautious:
- Storms displace people, but they also displace snakes, rodents, and insects.
- Washouts may weaken road and bridge structures and could collapse under a vehicle’s weight.
- As you begin clean up, set priorities. You likely cannot completely clean up in one day, so focus on the most important tasks first and but don’t overexert yourself.
- Watch children and keep them safe at all times. Children should not be left alone in disaster areas and should never be allowed to play in damaged buildings.
Before you enter your home:
- Inspect your home’s foundation, stairs, roof, and chimney for any structural damage.
- If you are unsure if your home is safe, don’t go in. Wait and have your home inspected by a professional before entering.
- Wear protective clothing on legs, arms, feet, and hands. Wear sturdy boots and rubber gloves and take care when entering your home.
- Stay away from fallen or damaged electrical wires. They could still be live.
- Do not return to your home at night. Authorities will probably not allow it.
- Do not carry lanterns or torches; they could start a fire. Use a flashlight only.
If your home has flooded:
- Look again for animals, especially poisonous snakes that may have come into your home with the floodwaters. Use a stick to poke through debris.
- Keep an eye out for nails, splinters, holes in walls or floors, wet or falling plaster, and undermined foundations.
- Open closets and cupboards carefully.
- Check the gas supply. If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing sound, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you can, and call the gas company from outside the home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, a professional must turn it back on.
- Do not use an electrical system that has been flooded until an electrician has checked it out. If you see sparks, broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker, and call an electrician. Your municipality may have shut off electricity; if this is the case make certain you turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker so you won’t be caught off guard if your power is suddenly restored.
- Check sewage and water lines. Avoid using the toilets if you suspect damage sewer lines, call a plumber. Do not use water from a private supply until health authorities have tested it. Do not use water from a municipal supply unless health authorities have declared it safe for use.
- Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline, or other flammable liquids.
- Try to protect your home from further damage and from rodents and insects by patching holes or covering broken windows/doors.
- The mud left behind by floodwaters can contain sewage and chemicals. Clean and disinfect everything that got wet. Remember, not everything will be salvageable.
- If your basement is flooded, pump it out gradually (about one-third of the water per day) to avoid damage. The walls may collapse and the floor may buckle if the basement is pumped out while the surrounding ground is still waterlogged.
- Start cleanup as soon as possible, especially if flooding has occurred. Thoroughly dry and clean the house before trying to live in it. Delay permanent repairs until the building is thoroughly dry.
- Take pictures of all damage — whether or not you have flood insurance. Keep good records of repair and cleaning costs.