What To Do After A Hurricane: Complete guide to filing a claim, cleaning up, and repairing your home
The storm has passed. You’re probably eager to see what the damage is. Returning to your home after a natural disaster is an emotional and stressful experience. Having a plan will help make the recovery process a little easier. This step by step guide will help prepare for what to expect, how to assess damage, and how to clean up after the storm. Returning Home Be Informed Stay tuned to local news organizations, such as a radio or television stations, for important announcements, bulletin, and instructions concerning the storm area, medical aid and other forms of assistance, such as food, water and shelter. Find out if local authorities have declared your neighborhood safe. Officials may close certain roads due to flooding or suspected road damage. Be aware if there are specific routes you need to take and if authorities have established safe spots for residents in your area to gather. Have a Plan Try to return to your home during daylight hours so you won't need to use electricity or lights. Make sure all family members are accounted for. Alert others of your status and plans to return home. Drive Carefully Watch out for road hazards like debris and sinkholes. Do NOT drive through ANY water. Standing water may be hiding large sinkholes or ditches and may be deeper than it appears. Attempting to drive through — even in a sport utility truck — may stall your vehicle and put you in a more dangerous situation. Electrical and Natural Gas Dangers Be aware and avoid downed power lines even if they look harmless. Do not drive over downed power lines or through any water that may contain downed lines. If power lines fall on your vehicle while driving, continue to drive away from the danger. If your vehicle stalls, DO NOT turn off the ignition and DO NOT get out. Wait for emergency rescue personnel and warn other bystanders to stay away from your vehicle and potential danger. Avoid metal fences and other metal objects near downed lines. DO NOT use matches in a storm ravaged area until all gas lines are checked for leaks (keep flashlights and plenty of batteries at hand). Remain Aware Telephone lines will likely be busy in the area; use a phone only for emergencies to preserve battery life. Remember that you may not have immediate access to your home. Emergency rescue crews, power crews and other personnel may be attending to special needs. Roads could be blocked, power lines could be down and people may be trapped and in need of assistance. Make sure that you have current identification. You may have to pass through identification check points before being allowed access to your home/neighborhood. Avoid sight-seeing or entering a storm ravaged area unnecessarily. You could be mistaken for a looter. Secure Safe Lodging If your home is uninhabitable, you'll need to find your family a safe place to stay. The loss of use coverage in a standard homeowner insurance policy typically helps pay for your family's lodging as long as the damage is part of a covered claim. Check your policy or ask your agent to make sure you have this coverage and to determine its monetary value and time limits. Remember to save all receipts.
Link for shelters At Your Home Consider having professionals or licensed contractors inspect your home for damage and help in repairs. This includes electricians, as well as professionals to inspect gas lines. Do not use electrical or gas appliances that have been wet, and do not turn on damaged appliances because of the hazards of electric shock or fire. Check the Structure If your home's structure or foundation appears unstable, do not attempt to go inside. Instead, immediately call for professional help and get a thorough assessment of the damage. Water damage after a hurricane can cause walls, ceilings and floors to swell, decay or collapse. Use extreme caution and approach your home with a critical eye. Be wary of fallen power lines on or near your property. Alert the power company and local authorities of the electrical hazard. Buildings and homes that look undamaged may suffer from hidden dangers of flood damage. Do NOT work in or around any building until it has been examined and certified safe by professional engineers or architects. Leave the area immediately if you sense the building shifting, see cracks in the walls or foundation, or hear unusual noises that may signal a possible collapse. Electrical and Natural Gas Dangers Floodwaters may have shifted supply lines or broken seals. If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main valve if possible, open the windows and leave the building immediately. Alert the gas company, as well as local police and fire departments. DO NOT turn on any lights, smoke, light matches or do anything that could cause a spark. DO NOT return to your house until you are told it is safe to do so. If you see frayed wiring, sparks from wires or smell something burning but see no evidence of fire, you may have electrical damage. If possible, shut off the electric system at your home's main circuit breaker or fuse box. Alternative Sources of Power Never use a generator indoors. This includes garages, basements and crawlspaces. Exhaust fumes contain high levels of carbon monoxide which can be deadly when reached lethal levels. Even when left outside, keep generators away from doors and windows and at least 10 feet away from your home. Never hook up a generator to your home's wiring. ONLY use portable, gas-powered electric generators OUTSIDE on a dry and level surface. Also, allow your generator to cool off before refilling it with gas – splashing gas on hot generator components can lead to a fire. Electrical equipment and appliances must be completely dry before use. Have a certified electrician check appliances, if you are unsure of their condition. Never use charcoal indoors because burning charcoal produces high levels of carbon monoxide that can reach lethal levels in enclosed spaces. Avoid turning the power on at your home if there is flooding present. In certain areas, the flooding rains that accompany a storm can create pest problems. Be aware of potential pest problems in your area, such as mice, rats, insects or snakes that may have entered your home. Filing Insurance Claims Homeowners Talk to your insurance company before starting the cleanup process or repair process. File a Claim ASAP: Insurance companies sometimes work on a first-come, first-served basis; so it's in your best interest to file an insurance claim as soon as possible. When you contact your provider, let them know the extent of the damages and that you have an inventory of your possessions. An insurance adjuster will come to your property, assess the damage, and determine the size of your payout. Renters Talk to your landlord or property manager before starting the cleanup process or repair process. According to TexasLawHelp.org, the law requires your landlord to repair conditions that affect the physical health and safety of ordinary tenants. After it's safe to return, you and your landlord must assess whether a home is habitable. Depending on where you live, local housing laws may hold landlords to higher repair standards. You may be able to terminate your lease depending on the initial terms and the extent of the damage. However, if you are able to stay in the unit while repairs are being made, you must still pay rent. Landlords may wait till they receive money from property insurance claims to begin repairs. Landlords are not responsible for loss or damage to your personal belongings. If you have renters insurance or flood insurance, it may cover property damage. If there is a disaster declaration, apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) within 60 days of the declaration. Damaged Vehicles If your car was damaged during the storm, report the damage to your insurance company. Be careful about buying used ones. Individuals may try to take advantage of the situation and try to sell damaged or flooded vehicles. Check the floorboards and wheel well in the trunk for dampness. Check all the lights, blinkers, high beams, under the hood, check everything. Look into having a service technician or auto shop inspect the vehicle you are interested in purchasing. It may cost a fee, but it will save you money in the long run. Remember, hundreds of thousands of vehicles in Houston were underwater including those at car dealerships FEMA Renters and homeowners may qualify for FEMA assistance. Homeowners Those impacted should register even if they have insurance. FEMA cannot duplicate insurance payments, but underinsured applicants may receive help after their claims have been settled. Please note that if you are eligible for an Individual Assistance grant you are not required to pay back the grant to FEMA. There is no income threshold for Individual Assistance grants, but you may be referred to the Small Business Administration (SBA) for a low interest disaster loan to assist in your recovery. These low interest disaster loans for homeowners and businesses from the SBA must be repaid. Renters Renters displaced by the May storms and flooding may be eligible for federal disaster assistance, including grants from FEMA and low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration. FEMA offers eligible renters grants for rental assistance. These grants help pay for temporary housing while a damaged home or apartment is being repaired. Eligible renters may receive grant under FEMA’s Other Needs Assistance program. These grants help uninsured or underinsured survivors with expenses and serious needs caused by the storms. link with more info Document the Damage Use a camera or camcorder to thoroughly record any damage done to your home before any repairs are attempted. Document the damage thoroughly with photos, as it will make the insurance claims process much easier. In addition to photos, make a home inventory list of all damaged items. Include detailed descriptions, price, and purchase receipts if available. Remember to be patient during the claims process. With the proper preparation, things will be back to normal soon. Use Caution During Clean Up Don't make or commission permanent repairs until an insurance adjuster reviews the damage. While it may be tempting to start cleaning up and throwing out damaged items after the storm, your insurance adjuster needs to see what happened firsthand to make you the best offer to settle your claim. Take Care of Yourself Be prepared for fire hazards. Always have at least two fire extinguishers at the cleanup site since water supplies may be inoperable and local fire department response may be slow. Beware of spoiled food. Check all food for mold and other signs of spoilage. If in doubt, throw it out. Is the water safe? Use only bottled water for eating and drinking until local authorities verify that the public tap water system is safe to use again. Flooding brings with it the risk of waterborne bacterial contaminations. You should assume that the water is not safe and use properly stored water or boil your tap water. You can purify water by boiling it vigorously — it should be bubbling and rolling for at least one minute. If you can't boil water, add six drops of ordinary, unscented household bleach per gallon of contaminated water and stir well. Let the water stand for 30 minutes before use. Bleach alone will not kill parasitic organisms or make the water potable. Use teams of two or more people to remove debris and heavy objects that weigh more than 50 pounds. Limit your cleanup to manageable tasks. Avoid over-exertion and take frequent breaks. Also be aware of signs of emotional distress, common after any natural disaster. Seek support from friends, neighbors, religious and professional organizations. Wear proper protective clothing. Heavy-duty work gloves, hard hats, watertight boots with steel shanks and insoles should be used during cleanup. Earplugs and goggles or face shields should be worn if you are using, or are near, powered equipment such as chain saws, dryers and other dangerous tools. Be cautious of chemicals. Floodwaters and high winds may have shifted or unearthed chemical containers. Avoid inhaling chemical fumes. Propane gas tanks for barbecue grills blown onto your property could pose a risk of fire and explosion. Notify your local fire department immediately to handle such hazards. Be alert for animal dangers. Wild or stray domestic pets will be disoriented just like humans after a natural disaster. Do not attempt to corral or make contact with such animals. Call your local animal control office to deal with strays and disoriented pets. If you are bitten by an animal, seek medical attention immediately. Watch out for an increased presence of rats and other rodents which may feed off spoiled food or animal carcasses. Contact animal control authorities for information on how to dispose dead animals found on your property. Don't wade into the water. Standing floodwater on your property may hide a host of dangers including live electrical lines and fecal matter from overflowed sewage lines. Do not let children play in any water or touch objects that may have been exposed to possibly contaminated water. Remember that downed or damaged trees can contain power lines that can be a hazard. Cleaning Up Your Home
Mold Within a day of a flood, mold can begin forming. Homeowners and renters should be on the lookout for discoloration and a musty smell. It’s important to remove items from the home if they’ve been soaked with water and can’t be fully dried, since mold can be easily spread. This can include everything from rugs and furniture to drywall and appliances. Treating materials for mold with proper cleaners is another way of preventing growth and further damage. Contaminated Mud Shovel out as much mud as possible, then use a garden sprayer or hose to wash away mud from hard surfaces. Clean and disinfect every surface. Scrub surfaces with hot water and a heavy-duty cleaner. Then disinfect with a solution of 1/4 cup chlorine bleach per gallon of water or a product that is labeled as a disinfectant to kill germs. In the Kitchen Immerse glass, porcelain, china, plastic dinnerware and enamelware for 10 minutes in a disinfecting solution of 2 tablespoons of chlorine bleach per gallon of hot water. Air-dry dishes. Do not use a towel. Disinfect silverware, metal utensils, and pots and pans by boiling in water for 10 minutes. Chlorine bleach should not be used in this case because it reacts with many metals and causes them to darken. Cupboards and counters need to be cleaned and rinsed with a chlorine bleach solution before storing dishes. Furniture and Household Items Take furniture, rugs, bedding and clothing outside to dry as soon as possible. Use an air conditioner or dehumidifier to remove moisture or open at least two windows to ventilate with outdoor air. Use fans to circulate air in the house. If mold and mildew have already developed, brush off items outdoors to prevent scattering spores in the house. Vacuum floors, ceilings and walls to remove mildew, then wash with disinfectant. Wear a two-strap protective mask to prevent breathing mold spores. Mattresses should be thrown away. Upholstered furniture soaks up contaminants from floodwaters and should be cleaned only by a professional. Wood veneered furniture is usually not worth the cost and effort of repair. Solid wood furniture can usually be restored, unless damage is severe. Toys and stuffed animals may have to be thrown away if they've been contaminated by floodwaters. Photographs, books and important papers can be frozen and cleaned later. They should be dried carefully and slowly. Wash the mud off and store the articles in plastic bags and put them in a frost-free freezer to protect from mildew and further damage until you have time to thaw and clean them or take them to a professional. Ceilings and Walls Wallboard acts like a sponge when wet. Remove wallboard, plaster and paneling to at least the flood level. If soaked by contaminated floodwater, it can be a permanent health hazard and should be removed. If most of the wallboard was soaked by clean rainwater, consider cutting a 4- to 12-inch-high section from the bottom and top of walls. This creates a "chimney effect" of air movement for faster drying. A reciprocating saw with a metal cutting blade works well, but use only the tip of the blade and watch out for pipes, ductwork and wiring. Plaster and paneling can often be saved, but air must be circulated in the wall cavities to dry the studs and sills. The three kinds of insulation must be treated differently. Styrofoam might only need to be hosed off. Fiberglass batts should be thrown out if muddy but may be reused if dried thoroughly. Loose or blown-in cellulose should be replaced since it holds water for a long time and can lose its antifungal and fire retardant abilities. Electrical System The system must be shut off and repaired and inspected by an electrician before it can be turned back on. Wiring must be completely dried out- even behind walls. Switches, convenience outlets, light outlets, entrance panel, and junction boxes that have been under water may be filled with mud. Heating and Cooling Systems and Ducts Will need inspection and cleaning. Flood-soaked insulation should be replaced. Appliances Appliances will get stains, odors, silt deposits, and gritty deposits and need to be serviced, cleaned and sanitized. Running equipment before it is properly cleaned could seriously damage it and/or shock you. Professional cleaning is recommended for electronics, TVs and radios, washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, and vacuum cleaners. The hard exterior can be hand cleaned. All metallic appliances that have been flooded should be properly grounded to prevent electric shock. Mud or dirt in a grounded outlet or adapter may prevent the grounding system from working, and you could be electrocuted. Basement If your basement is full or nearly full of water, pump out just 2 or 3 feet of water each day. If you drain the basement too quickly, the pressure outside the walls will be greater than the pressure inside the walls. That may make the walls and floor crack and collapse. Floors With wood subflooring, the floor covering (vinyl, linoleum, carpet) must be removed so the subflooring can dry thoroughly which may take several months. Open windows and doors to expose the boards to as much air as possible. Carpeting Clean and dry carpets and rugs as quickly as possible. If sewage-contaminated floodwater covered your carpeting, discard it for health safety reasons. Also discard if the carpet was under water for 24 hours or more. To clean, drape carpets and rugs outdoors and hose them down. Work a disinfecting carpet cleaner into soiled spots with a broom. To discourage mildew and odors, rinse with a solution of 2 tablespoons bleach to 1 gallon water, but don't use this solution on wool or nylon carpets. Dry the carpet and floor thoroughly before replacing the carpet. Padding is nearly impossible to clean so should be replaced. If the carpet can't be removed, dry it as quickly as possible using a wet/dry vacuum and dehumidifier. Use a fan to circulate air above the carpet, and if possible, lift the carpet and ventilate with fans underneath. Vinyl flooring and floor tile may need to be removed to allow drying of subfloor. Wood Floors Wooden floors should be dried gradually. Sudden drying could cause cracking or splitting. Some restoration companies can accelerate drying time by forcing air through the fluted underside of hardwood floorboards. Remove hardwood floor boards to prevent buckling. Remove a board every few feet to reduce buckling caused by swelling. Clean and dry wood before attempting repairs. Roof Damage and Leaks Defective flashing- Flashing is the sheet metal used in waterproofing roof valleys, hips and the angle between a chimney and a roof. Wet spots near a chimney or outside wall may mean the leak is caused by defective flashing, narrow flashing or loose mortar joints. Look for corroded, loose or displaced flashing on sloping roof valleys and at junctions of dormers and roof. Clogged downspouts or eaves- Check for choked downspouts. Accumulated water or snow on the roof above the flashing may cause a leak. Ice accumulations on eaves sometimes form ridges, which cause melting snow to back up under the shingles. Cracks and Deterioration Roofing (especially wood or composition shingles) usually deteriorates first on southern exposures. Check southern slopes for cracking or deterioration. Holes Missing shingles or holes in the roofing may be causing wet spots. To find holes, check for a drip trail or spot of light coming through in the attic. Stick a nail, straw or wire through the hole to mark the spot on the outside. link for a complete guide Hire Professionals Partner with professionals. Professional restoration companies like offer 24-hour emergency assistance to minimize the immediate and extended impact that a hurricane can have on your home. Experts come equipped with the best practices and tools to extract water, dry your home and belongings, restore damaged items and prevent the development of mold so you can get back to normal as soon as possible after a hurricane. Understanding what to do after a hurricane can help you get back on your feet much quicker once a storm has passed. Be sure to check Ready.gov for more information and tips on what to do after a hurricane so you can be as prepared as possible. If you don't know where to start after hurricane damage hits, call professionals or check local Facebook pages. Sometimes the best help is from your neighbors. Helpful Links
Repairing Your Home After a Flood FEMA Mark Yourself Safe Apply for Assistance Guide To Debris Removal Applying For Individual Assistance Applying For FEMA Assistance FEMA Assistance For Renters FEMA Texas Federal Aid Programs sources: abc13, market watch, flood safety, ready.gov, today's homeowner, flash.org, red cross, abc news