After the Storm - Recovering From a Disaster

Picking up the pieces following a disaster can be difficult. Factors to consider include being aware of post-disaster dangers, assessing damages, and planning repairs and recovery.

Women embrace after a tornado has ravaged their home.Water and food safety, power outages, and financial loss often top the list of concerns following emergencies.

But the nature of the disaster will determine your steps toward recovery. Both the Red Cross and FEMA offer detailed guidelines for handling the aftermath of various disasters, categorized by emergency such as tornadoes, floods, winter storms, and terrorism.

FEMA offers the following information for caring for yourself and your family after a disaster.

Your first concern after a disaster is your household's health and safety.

  • Be aware of new hazards created by the disaster. Watch for washed out roads, contaminated buildings, contaminated water, gas leaks, broken glass, damaged wires and slippery floors.
  • Be aware of exhaustion. Don't try to do too much at once. Set priorities and pace yourself.
  • Drink plenty of clean water, eat well, and get enough rest.
  • Wear sturdy work boots and gloves. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and clean water often when working in debris.
  • Inform local authorities about health and safety hazards, including chemical releases, downed power lines, washed out roads, smoldering insulation, and/or dead animals.

Returning to a damaged home

Often times, a disaster will force you from your home. Upon returning, it is important that you inspect the home for damages. This can be both physically and mentally challenging. Above all, use caution.

  • Keep a battery-powered radio with you so you can listen for emergency updates.
  • Wear sturdy work boots and gloves.
  • Before going inside, walk carefully around the outside of your home and check for loose power lines, gas leaks and structural damage. If you smell gas, do not enter the home and leave immediately. Do not enter if floodwaters remain around the building. If you have any doubts about safety, have your home inspected by a professional before entering.
  • If your home was damaged by fire, do not enter until authorities say it is safe.
  • Check for cracks in the roof, foundation and chimneys. If it looks like the building may collapse, leave immediately.
  • A battery-powered flash light is the best source of light for inspecting a damaged home. CAUTION: The flashlight should be turned on outside before entering a damaged home-the battery may produce a spark that could ignite leaking gas, if present.
  • Do not use oil, gas lanterns, candles or torches for lighting inside a damaged home. Leaking gas or other flammable materials may be present. Do not smoke. Do not turn on the lights until you're sure they're safe to use.
  • Enter the home carefully and check for damage. Be aware of loose boards and slippery floors.
  • Watch out for animals, especially poisonous snakes. Use a stick to poke through debris.
  • If you smell gas or hear a hissing or blowing sound, open a window and leave immediately. Turn off the main gas valve from the outside, if you can. Call the gas company from a neighbor's residence. If you shut off the gas supply at the main valve, you will need a professional to turn it back on.
  • Check the electrical system where visible and accessible. 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, however, you are wet, standing in water or unsure of your safety, do not touch anything electrical. Rather, leave the building and call for help.
  • Check appliances. If appliances are wet, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. Then unplug appliances and let them dry out. Have appliances checked by a professional before using them again. Also have the electrical system checked by an electrician before turning the power back on.
  • Check the water and sewage systems. If pipes are damaged, turn off the main water valve.
  • Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches and gasoline. Open cabinets carefully.
  • Be aware of objects that may fall.
  • Try to protect your home from further damage. Open windows and doors to get air moving through.
  • Clean and disinfect everything that got wet. Mud left behind by floodwaters can contain sewage and chemicals.
  • 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.
  • Check with local authorities before using any water; it could be contaminated. Wells should be pumped out and the water tested by authorities before drinking.
  • Throw out fresh food, cosmetics, and medicines that have come into contact with floodwaters.
  • Check refrigerated food for spoilage-your power supply may have been disrupted during the emergency. Throw out all spoiled food and any food that you suspect might be spoiled.
  • Call your insurance agent. Take pictures of damages. Keep good records of repair and cleaning costs.