Returning Home

WTVY Hurricane Center -> Cleaning Up -> Returning to a Devastated Area

Returning to a Devastated Area

Stay out of disaster areas which could be dangerous and where your presence will interfere with essential rescue and recovery work. Do not drive unless you must. Roads should be left clear for emergency vehicles and debris removal equipment. Remember, debris filled streets are dangerous. Along the coast, soil may erode beneath pavement or bridge supports, which could collapse under the weight of a car. Be wary of inland flooding. Citizens returning home should expect the worst and take precautions to assure their safety.

  • If you had to leave your home, return only when local authorities advise that it is safe to do so. Also, be sure to have photo identification available that shows your address, because sometimes local authorities will only permit people who own property in a disaster-affected area back into it.
  • To make sure your residence is safe to enter, check with local authorities. Do not cut or walk past colored tape that was placed over doors or windows to mark damaged areas unless local authorities advise that it is safe to do so. If a building inspector has placed a color-coded sign on the home, do not enter it until you get more information, advice and instructions from local authorities.
  • If you have children, leave them with a relative or friend while you conduct your first inspection of your home after the disaster. The site may be unsafe for children, and seeing the damage firsthand may upset them even more and cause long-term effects, including nightmares.
  • Keep listening to your local radio or TV stations for information. If you evacuate, return home only when authorities advise that it is safe.
  • Drive only if it’s absolutely necessary. Immediately after the storm passes, debris and floodwaters may be covering roadways, making them impassible. Emergency crews will be working to clear roadways, but it may take hours or even days to clear them all. Avoid sightseeing. Roads may be closed for your protection so if you encounter a barricade, turn around and go another way.
  • Do not drive in flooded areas.
  • Avoid weakened bridges and washed-out roadways.
  • Stay on firm ground. Moving water only 6 inches deep can sweep you off your feet. Standing water also may be electrically charged from downed power lines.
  • Beware of downed power lines. Lines may be charged and dangerous.
  • Beware of snakes, insects and animals driven to higher ground by floodwaters.
  • Before You Enter Your Home

    Walk carefully around the outside and check for loose power lines, gas leaks, and structural damage. If you have any doubts about safety, have your residence inspected by a qualified building inspector or structural engineer before entering.

    Do not enter if:
  • You smell gas.
  • Floodwaters remain around the building.
  • Your home was damaged by fire and the authorities have not declared it safe.
  • Going Inside Your Home

    When you go inside your home, there are certain things you should and should not do. Enter the home carefully and check for damage. Be aware of loose boards and slippery floors. The following items are other things to check inside your home:

    Checking for Structural Damage

  • Check the outside of your home before you enter. Look for loose power lines, broken or damaged gas lines, foundation cracks or other damage. See if porch roofs and overhangs still have all their supports. If you see damage on the outside, it could indicate that the inside of your home is seriously damaged and unsafe. In this situation, ask a building inspector or contractor to check the structure before you enter.
  • If there is no significant visible outside damage, then check inside. Carefully open the door. If it is jammed, do not force it open. It may be providing support to the structure of your home. If you force open the door, it may cause parts of your home to collapse or become more damaged. Find another way to enter your home. Those who do enter your damaged home should wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, closed-toed rubber- soled shoes or boots and work gloves. Depending on the situation, dust masks, safety glasses (or goggles) and/or a hard hat may also be necessary. Many people are injured after disasters during clean-up—the last thing that you want to do is add injuries to the list of things to take care of after a disaster.
  • Avoid using candles and other open flames indoors. Use a battery-powered flash light to inspect a damaged home. Note: The flashlight should be turned on outside before entering - the battery may produce a spark that could ignite leaking gas, if present.
  • Smell or sniff for gas. If you detect the odor of natural or propane gas or hear a hissing noise, leave the property immediately and get well away from it. Call the fire department using a cellular telephone or a neighbor's phone. If the fire department instructs you to do so, turn off the gas with the proper tool at the valve on the outside meter. When natural gas is turned off at the main valve, it must be turned back on by a professional to ensure that the proper sequence is followed to restore gas service and prevent possible gas leaks, fires or an explosion.
  • If you have a propane tank system, turn off all valves and contact a propane supplier to check the system out before you use it again.
  • Beware of animals, such as rodents, snakes, spiders and insects, that may have entered your home. As you inspect your home, tap loudly and often on the floor with a stick to give notice that you are there. Animals (including snakes) do not want encounters with humans, and will move away if you make your presence known.
  • Objects, such as furnishings or building parts that have been damaged, may be unstable. Be very cautious when moving near them. Avoid holding, pushing or leaning against damaged building parts.
  • Check the ceiling for signs of sagging. Water from fire hoses, wind, rain or deep flooding may wet plaster or wallboard. Wet plaster or wallboard is very heavy and dangerous if it falls. Since damaged plaster or wallboard will have to be replaced anyway, you can try to knock it down but do so carefully. Wear protective clothing, including eye protection and a hard hat. Use a long stick, and stand well away from the damaged area. If the ceiling is sagging from the weight of water, poke holes in the ceiling starting from the outside of the bulge to let water drain out slowly. Take your time, and knock away small chunks at a time. Striking the center of the damaged area first may cause the ceiling to collapse.
  • Check the floor for signs of sagging. Again, keep in mind that plywood and other flooring that was damaged by water could collapse under human weight. Avoid walking on sagging floors. If small sections of floors are sagging, place thick plywood panels or thick, strong boards on the floor to cover the damaged area. Be sure the wood extends at least 8–12 inches on each side of the sagging area.
  • If it is dry out, open windows and doors to ventilate and dry your home.
  • If your basement has 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.
  • Throw out all food and other supplies that you suspect may have become contaminated or come in to contact with floodwater. Do not drink or prepare food with tap water until you are certain it is not contaminated. The health department will issue advisories regarding drinking water in your area.
  • If the power is out, use a flashlight to inspect for damage and for as long as the power remains out. Do not use any open flame, including candles, to inspect for damage or serve as alternate lighting.
  • Disconnect and check all appliances for water damage and broken connections before using them.
  • Make temporary repairs, such as covering holes, bracing walls and removing debris. Save all your receipts.
  • Take photographs of the damage. You may need these to substantiate insurance claims later.
  • Checking Utilities and Major Systems


  • Check each telephone to see if it is still on the hook. Hang up any phones that have been knocked off the hook. Wait a few minutes, and then pick up one phone to listen for a dial tone to know whether you have working telephone service.
  • If you do not have a dial tone, try unplugging all the telephones. Plug in one at a time and listen for dial tone. This will help you determine if the telephone instrument is broken or the phone service is completely out.
  • If the event affected only your home (no others in your neighborhood), contact the telephone company using a cellular telephone or a neighbor's phone to report the problem and to request repair services.

    Electrical Systems

  • 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.
  • If there is a pool of water on the floor between you and the fuse box or circuit breaker panel, use a dry wooden stick to try to reach to turn off the main fuse or breaker, but do not step or stand in water to do that. If you cannot reach the fuse box or breaker panel, call a qualified electrician for assistance.
  • Inspect the panel box for any breakers that may have tripped. A tripped breaker may indicate damaged wiring inside your home. Do not turn on breakers that tripped; instead, turn tripped breakers to the “off” position and mark them with a piece of tape to indicate which ones were tripped when you found them. Have a qualified electrician determine if there are hidden internal electrical problems and fix them.
  • Turn off all other circuit breakers except the one marked “main” and the breakers for the room(s) in which you will be working. When the power is restored to your home, turn breakers back on, one at a time, for each room as you get to it during the recovery/restoration process.
  • Use a flashlight to inspect each fuse to see if it is still in working order. Replace each broken fuse with a fuse of exactly the same amperage rating. Do not use fuses of lower or higher ratings as replacements, or any other object such as a coin or strip of metal to bypass the protection that fuses provide.
  • If breakers or fuses are on, but there is no power in your home, turn off the main breaker or unscrew the main fuse, and call the power company. You don't have to contact them if your whole neighborhood is without power.


  • If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using sinks, showers or toilets and call a plumber.
  • If water pipes are damaged, turn off the water at the main valve. Call a plumber for assistance. If the disaster that affected you also affected your neighborhood or your community, then your area's water utility service may have been damaged or disrupted, or it may be operating with less pressure than usual. Therefore, listen to local television or radio station broadcasts for instructions about the safety of your water, and whether you have to take any precautions such as boiling it before using it. If you are unsure about the safety of your water supply, call your local water utility company or public health agency.

    Checking Household Items

  • Normal household items, such as cleaning products, can cause toxic fumes and other hazards if they mix. If you smell a noxious odor, or your eyes water from fumes of mixed chemicals, open a window and get out of your home. Call for professional help.
  • If there are spilled chemicals that do not pose a health risk, be sure to put on rubber gloves in addition to other protective clothing. Clean up spills carefully. Discard spilled chemicals and rags used for cleaning according to the advice of local authorities.
  • Throw away food, beverages and medicine exposed to heat, smoke, soot or flood waters. If the refrigerator wasn't under water, food that was in the freezer can be used if it still has ice crystals on it. If not, discard it. Canned food is OK if it didn't get wet.

    When Making Repairs

  • Carefully follow the instructions provided with tools and equipment (such as chain saws, chippers and other power tools) to maintain personal safety at all times. Wear personal protective equipment—including goggles, gloves, long sleeves and long pants—whenever you are operating power equipment. Keep children away from power equipment.
  • Damaged locks (especially iron locks) should be taken apart and wiped with oil. If locks cannot be removed, squirt machine oil through a bolt opening or keyhole, and work the knob to distribute the oil. Hinges should also be thoroughly cleaned and oiled.

    Recovering Financially

  • Contact your insurance agent, broker or insurance company as soon as you can to report how, when and where the damage occurred. Provide a general description of the damage.
  • Prepare a list of damaged or lost items and provide receipts if possible. Consider photographing or videotaping the damage where it occurred for further documentation to support your claim.
  • If possible, keep damaged items or portions of those items until the claims adjuster has visited your home. Do not throw away anything you plan to claim without discussing it with your adjuster first.
  • Keep receipts for all additional expenses that you may incur such as lodging, repairs or other supplies.
  • Make copies of all documents and pictures given to your claims adjuster or insurance company. Besides insurance, there are many questions related to taxes, expenses and determining just how you will recover from a personal financial point of view. For helpful advice, please see Disaster Recovery: A Guide to Financial Issues (A5076) which is available from your local Red Cross chapter and at

    Vital Documents and Whom to Contact About Replacement

    Driver's License Department of Motor Vehicles
    Government Issued ID Contact the issuing authority
    Insurance policies Your insurance agent or company
    Military discharge Department of Veterans Affairs, papers
    1-800-827-1000 or TDD/TTY 1-800-829-4833
    Passports State Department—Passport Services, 202-955-0430 (24 hours)
    Birth, death and marriage certificates Bureau of Records in the appropriate state
    Social Security or Medicare cards Local Social Security office
    1-800-772-1213 or TDD/TTY 1-800-325-0778
    Credit cards The issuing companies as soon as possible
    Mastercard Contact issuing financial institution
    VISA 1-800-VISA911 Contact issuing financial institution
    American Express 1-800-441-0519
    Discover 1-800-discover (1-800-347-2683), TDD/TTY 1-800-347-7449
    Titles to deeds Records department of the area in which the property is located
    Stocks and bonds Issuing company or your broker
    Wills Your attorney
    Income tax record The IRS center where filed, your accountant or 1-800-829-1040
    Citizenship papers Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, 1-800-375-5283
    Mortgage papers Lending institution

    Additional Steps to Take…

    If your home was Flooded

    As you rebuild-

  • Hose down the inside of the home to remove health hazards from flood water mud. Shovel out as much mud as possible. Quickly remove the water you use during this cleaning.
  • If the water didn't get behind the walls, you can reduce the chances of mold and mildew by wiping down all surfaces that had gotten wet with a solution of one cup of liquid household bleach to a gallon of water. Test painted, textured or wallpapered surfaces to ensure that the bleach solution will not discolor these surfaces. To conduct this test, wipe a small area of the surface with the bleach solution, and allow it to dry at least 24 hours.
  • Elevate or raise furniture on lower floors that are subject to flooding.
  • Ask a professional to-

  • Check outlets before you use them.
  • Relocate the fuse or circuit panel box above the level of flooding.
  • Raise electrical outlets and switches, if located below the flood line.
  • Elevate the washer, dryer, furnace and water heater.
  • Install a backflow valve in your sewer system to prevent backflows.
  • If flooding happens often, determine if your home can be relocated to higher ground.
  • Prevent mold and mildew by ensuring your contractor installs waterproofing materials on exterior walls, and water-/mold-resistant products, such as green board drywall materials, if used in areas that have been flooded or may be damp or wet, such as basements and bathrooms. Consult with your building professional on additional products and applications available to help you reduce the growth of mold and mildew.
  • Replace drywall and insulation that has been soaked by flood waters. Water-damaged drywall and insulation must be replaced. It cannot be dried out and maintain structural integrity, or resistance to mold and mildew.
  • As you rebuild after a hurricane

  • Secure double entry doors at the top and the bottom.
  • Strengthen existing garage doors to improve the wind resistance, particularly double- wide garage doors.
  • Protect windows with permanent storm shutters.
  • Select trees that are not as subject to uprooting to replace damaged ones. A gardening or landscaping professional can give you excellent advice.
  • Identify a place to store lawn furniture, toys, gardening tools and trash cans that is away from stairs and exits to prevent them from being moved by high winds and becoming missiles.
  • Ask a professional to-

  • Ensure roof sheathing is properly installed.
  • Ensure end gables are securely fastened to the rest of the roof.
  • Fasten the roof to the walls with hurricane straps.
  • Wildlife in Disasters

  • Do not corner wild animals or try to rescue them. Call your local animal control office or wildlife resource office. Wild animals often seek higher ground which, during floods, eventually become submerged (i.e., island) and the animals become stranded. If the island is large enough and provides suitable shelter, you can leave food appropriate to the species (i.e., sunflower seeds for squirrels). Animals have a flight response and will flee from anyone approaching too closely. If the animal threatens to rush into the water, back away from the island or you may frighten the animal into jumping into the water to escape from you.
  • Do not approach wild animals that have taken refuge in your home. Wild animals such as snakes, opossums, and raccoons often seek refuge from floodwaters on upper levels of homes and have been known to remain after water recedes. If you encounter animals in this situation, open a window or provide another escape route and the animal will likely leave on its own. Do not attempt to capture or handle the animal. Should the animal stay, call your local animal control office or wildlife resource office.
  • Beware of an increased number of snakes and other predators. These animals will try to feed on the carcasses of reptiles, amphibians and small mammals who have been drowned or crushed in their burrows or under rocks.
  • Do not attempt to move a dead animal. Animal carcasses can present serious health risks. Outbreaks of anthrax, encephalitis and other diseases may occur. Contact your local emergency management office or health department for help and instructions.
  • Do not corner wild animals or try to rescue them. Wild animals will likely feel threatened and may endanger themselves by dashing off into floodwaters, fire, and so forth.
  • If bitten by an animal, seek immediate medical attention.
  • Price Gouging

    Hurricanes and tropical storms often do more than just physical damage. In recent years, thousands of consumers have filed complaints with the state Attorney General’s Office about price gouging before and after storms.

    Florida law prohibits extreme increases in the price of such commodities as food, water, hotels, ice, gasoline, lumber and equipment needed as a direct result of an officially declared emergency. Florida Attorney General’s Office investigates any complaints.

    Consumers are urged to call the price-gouging hot line if they feel they’ve been gouged.

    Under Florida law, price gouging occurs if a commodity’s price increases by a “gross disparity” from the average price of that commodity during the 30 days immediately before the declared emergency.

    This applies unless the increase is attributable to additional costs incurred by the seller or to national or international market trends.

    Violators of the price-gouging law are subject to civil penalties of $1,000 per violation, up to a total of $25,000 for multiple violations committed in a single 24-hour period. A law enacted in 2005 criminalizes price gouging and provides that during a declared state of emergency, any person who offers goods and services for sale to the public without possessing an occupational license commits a second-degree misdemeanor.

    State officials urge consumers to be wary of business scams that might arise in the wake of the flooding, including building-repair and tree-removal companies that come into storm-affected areas.

    Residents should deal whenever possible with established local companies when they contract for repairs or arrange financing to pay for any repairs that might not be covered by insurance.

    Consumers should be wary of any unsolicited “contractor” who knocks on the door with an offer to fix a damaged roof or window. Before signing any contracts, Floridians should check the contractor’s license, payment terms and other provisions.

    Florida Attorney General’s Office (866) 966-7226
    Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352)

    Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station. powered by Disqus