Preparing for a hurricane is no easy feat. Especially if you have multiple family members, beloved pets, or both in your care. Most recently, Tropical Storm Imelda caught everyone by surprise with its speed and ferocity in making landfall putting 6-million at risk for flooding and property damage. 

In the rush of any evacuation whether it be fire or flood, ensuring everyone can make it to safety is a priority. It’s entirely understandable when valued objects and sadly, even when pets sometimes get left behind.

Before salvaging household items, the most important thing to remember is to make your safety a priority when returning after a hurricane to clean and empty out your home. While many things will disappear as a result of flood damage, others can be saved.  

Rescue the most valuable items first

Returning to your home for the first time after evacuating from a natural disaster is often heartbreaking. However, when treasured belongings sustain water damage from a hurricane, you may be able to salvage them. FEMA recommends finding and rescuing “irreplaceable” valuables such as money, jewelry, family heirlooms, artwork, photographs, and important documents first.

Once it’s deemed safe by local officials, and you ensured the gas and electricity lines have been turned off, examine your property to determine if there is flood damage. If there is, contact your agent or insurance company to start your flood insurance claim and ask for an Advance Payment to help you begin recovering. 

Be sure to document your flood loss using photos and videos before you start cleaning up your home. Once you have documented your losses, look to recover valuable personal items first  that are irreplaceable like jewelry, family heirlooms, photographs and important documents.

How is a tropical storm different than a hurricane?

A hurricane is a type of tropical cyclone that brings with it thunderstorms and high winds. Hurricanes and tropical storms are both types of tropical cyclones. The difference is in the intensity. A hurricane is the most intense type of tropical cyclone with sustained winds of 74 mph or higher, while a tropical storm can have sustained winds of 73 mph or less.

On a practical level, the damage can be the same regardless of what type of storm it is. Although a hurricane produces more intense wind and flooding, a building can still be subjected to significant damage in a tropical storm, including wind, rain, storm surge, mud, mold, and debris.

How to save wood furnishings after water damage

Solid wood furniture including family heirloom and antique furniture can usually be cleaned and repaired after receiving water damage. Wood alcohol or turpentine applied with a cotton ball can help remove white mildew spots on the wood. After the furniture is dried out, cream wood restorers with lanolin will help restore good wooden furniture parts. However, upholstered furniture soaked by contaminated floodwaters are usually discarded due to health concerns.

How to clean clothes and linens damaged by hurricane floodwaters

Salvaging household items like clothes and linens is easier if you have working appliances.Wet textiles are the perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew. As soon as the floodwaters recede and the water has been removed, the next priority is to clean clothes and other water-soaked fabrics. Before you begin, please check with your local health department to ensure water used for cleaning is now safe for use, and that it is safe to use your appliances.

Although you may be inclined to wash these items in very hot water, high water temperatures can set any stains that have developed. Here is some guidance to follow to begin the clean-up process..

  • Sort your clothes and textiles into piles of washable and dry clean only fabrics. 
  • Sort your washable clothes into whites and colored clothing. Do not leave wet colored clothes mixed with whites because dye transfer can occur.
  • Using a hose, rinse as much mud as possible from the clothing. Do not put mud-covered clothing directly in the washer because the sludge can overwhelm the washer’s drainage system.
  • Wash the clothes in the hottest water recommended for the fabric. To disinfect, for white cotton fabrics, add one cup of chlorine bleach in the wash cycle. For fabrics that cannot be washed with chlorine bleach (spandex, wool, silk, colored clothes), add one cup of pine oil disinfectant (Pine-Sol) or one cup of phenolic disinfectant (Lysol) to the wash cycle.
  • After washing with disinfectant, inspect clothing for remaining stains. If stains remain, do not dry the clothing. Allow soiled clothing to soak overnight in a solution of oxygen-based bleach and then wash as usual with regular laundry detergent.
  • Dry clothing in a dryer at the highest heat recommended for the clothing to help kill bacteria. White clothes can be hung outside in the sun where ultraviolet rays will help kill bacteria.

What to do with kitchen items and food after flood damage

Like the other appliances in your house, you will want to make sure your dishwasher is safe to use, and that water to your house is safe to drink, and that the sewer system is working properly.

Examine food and kitchen items carefully after a flood. Contamination may occur if floodwaters have covered, or even dripped on your food. Some foods may be protected by their containers. If you have any doubt about the safety of a food, it is always better to throw it out rather than risk disease. Run all of your pots, pans and utensils through the dishwasher on high heat to help clean and sanitize them. 

Many food items will be obvious that they need to be discarded. A few of the items you might not expect are contaminated that can pose a risk::

  • Plastic bags of food, even if boxes and containers inside the bags seem dry. These include pastas, cereals, rice, dried milk, crackers, cookies or mixes.
  • Screw-topped or crimp-topped jars or bottles of food that have been touched by floodwaters, even when jars have not been opened. This includes all home-canned foods in glass jars and bottles as well as all jams, jellies, honey, molasses, syrups, fruits, pickles, etc., in glass jars. There is no realiable lid in use on glass food containers that will keep out water if the container is immersed.
  • Porous non-food items that are used with food, and items made of hard rubber, plastic or other flexible (porous) materials, such as baby bottle nipples, pacifiers, and plastic or wooden dishes and utensils.

An important note about food touched by floodwaters

According to FEMA, food (even in cans and sealed jars) is highly susceptible to contamination during a flood. Call the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Hotline at 1-800-535-4555 between 10:00 am and 4 pm, Eastern Time, Monday through Friday to have a food flood expert answer your questions about whether to keep or discard food.

FEMA publishes the following helpful guidelines on what to do after a flood

FEMA After the Flood General Guidance

Flood Recovery Booklet. Iowa Conservation and Preservation Consortium.

Repairing Your Flooded Home. American Red Cross and FEMA.

DisasterAssistance.gov. Access to disaster help and resources.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a number of helpful resources, including After a Hurricane; Evacuee Education Materials: Free Resources; Floods; and Returning Home After a Disaster: Be Healthy and Safe.

FloodSmart.gov is the official site of the National Flood Insurance Program. Resources include such topics as: Flooding and Flood Risks; Residential Coverage; Policyholder Resources; and Preparation and Recovery: After a Flood. Explore the site before the next flood. Toll-free calls are accepted at 888-379-9531. 

After a tropical storm, residents are faced with the challenging task of cleaning up. Public offices switch from response and rescue mode, to recovery efforts with restoration and rebuilding in areas hit by the storm.

Both private organizations and government agencies recommend taking photos, and video if possible, of every room from every angle. This will allow you to accurately document and represent your flood damage for insurance companies. 

If you don’t have flood insurance on your homeowner’s policy, it is still very important to document the damage as disaster recovery assistance from FEMA, and other organizations will likely require photos documenting the damage sustained during the storm.

If you have additional questions about how to store your recovered items after a large storm, contact a Metro Self Storage facility near you for practical storage advice.

Resources:

https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1537903646474-713c46c9f75fc24d3184cfc95ab98260/Flood_FIMA_Fact_Sheet_2015_508_rev_092418.pdf

http://www.accidentfund.com/newsletter/safety-tips-to-keep-in-mind-during-hurricane-cleanup-and-recovery/

https://www.fema.gov/hurricane-dorian

https://www.cleaninginstitute.org/cleaning-tips/clean-home/cleaning-after-flood-or-emergency

https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/flood/home/cleaning-and-disinfecting-textiles-after-the-flood

https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/flood/home/safe-handling-of-food-and-utensils-after-a-disaster

https://weather.com/science/weather-explainers/news/tropical-storm-vs-hurricane-harvey