Hurricane & Flood - Before and After Handbook
What to Do After the Storm
'The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.'
—John F. Kennedy
Part II: After the Storm
Take it from someone who has seen 27 inches of water lap against the living room walls: plan ahead. No photo album should live lower than three feet in a cabinet. Children’s cheerleader pom-poms and refrigerator art are no longer stashed on the closet floor. And, never throw away old phone books—they can raise Grandma’s heirloom drop-leaf just high enough to save it. (Remember, phonebooks swell and get even higher when wet!)
There’s a lot you can save. But you’ve got to plan, “while the sun is shining.”
Should a sustained storm bring record rainfall to your area, your home may take in water. Even if you are not near a river or bayou, your neighborhood may be so saturated that water simply has no place to go but in and up.
If your street water is climbing into your yard and/or if your neighborhood is prone to flood:
- Put on rubber soled shoes or rubber boots. Do NOT go barefoot in your home.
- If possible, move your car off the street into the garage.
- Remove gasoline cans and flammables from the garage or put them high into the rafters of your garage.
- Grab your pre-prioritized list of items that must be moved higher (onto a tabletop or countertop), such as documents, photos, computer.
- Unplug all electric cords from wall sockets in anticipation of water rising over the socket.
- Turn off electricity at the breaker if you believe that water will approach sockets.
- Remove lower drawers from dressers and place higher - they swell shut if wet.
- If you have a one-story home, go into your attic while the water is still low and check for a roof exit if necessary. Bring with you any necessary tools you would need to create an attic opening to your roof.
- Keep exterior doors closed. Unless you are near a river or creek, most rising water does NOT enter through doorways, but through ground saturation. So chances are, it will come from everywhere at once. Doors need to remain closed to keep out animals and insects that are groping for places to land.
- Keep battery-operated communication devices on for updates on weather and evacuation boats that may be coming through your area.
- Do not drink water from the tap until you have been advised that the water system was not contaminated.
- If your house is flooding, your toilets won’t flush. Have a temporary “chamber pot” designated. Camping toilets are good to have on hand.
After a flood:
Docking your houseboat
Who ya’ gonna call?
- First, call family members to let them know where and how you are.
- Then, call the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for assistance in your area.
- If you have flood insurance, call your agent.
- Pull out your camera and take pictures of the damage. Visual aids assist agents, if you have flood insurance.
Tips for surviving the aftermath of mess
Depending on the amount of water, the type of home and your geographic area, these tips may help you save belongings:
- Hardwood Floors: (sitting on screeds, not pre-fabricated) Every 3-4 feet, remove a plank and save it. Wood is porous and swells when wet, making the planks “pop” out and appear unsalvageable. But wood dries out and returns to its normal position. Wait several weeks and then replace the missing plank. Removing planks immediately after a flood allows the foundation and wood to dry out faster.
- Remove carpet AND carpet padding immediately.
- Remove the molding around the floors that are against the wall and save. This speeds up drying.
- Rent or purchase at least two dehumidifiers if possible, and run them 24 hours for several days. They truly do pull out tremendous moisture.
- Borrow fans and turn the air conditioner colder for several days.
- Sheetrock must be cut out at least three feet above the water line AND insulation removed as well. Insulation is highly absorbent.
- Swab down the gutted exposed boards with a mix of one quarter cup bleach to a gallon of water to prevent mold.
- Clean-up Equipment: When using sprayers, wet vacs, vacuum cleaners and other cleaning equipment, use an extension cord with a ground fault circuit interrupter or install a GFCI in the electrical circuits in damp environments.
To save wet documents
- If valuable papers have gotten wet, chances are you won’t have time to pull them apart and find a large enough area to let them dry. If they are partially drying, they will stick together and rip.
- So, take the entire file or stack of papers and resubmerge them briefly in water. Then wrap them in plastic and put them in freezer bags and freeze them until you have time to deal with them. They stay preserved and, for some reason, thaw without sticking together or ripping.
- Saving photos: resubmerge and gently pull apart. Lay them on a flat surface to dry. Remember, photos are developed in liquid in the first place.
Surviving a summer night without power
Trying to sleep in Houston without air conditioning with “low” temps in the 90s could be used as an interrogation tactic by the CIA. Try misting your sheets with water to stay cool. Combined with a battery-powered fan, this technique won’t exactly mimic A/C, but it may allow you to sleep for a few uninterrupted hours.
Patrol the perimeter
Not only will wind damage a fence, heavy rains can waterlog fence posts, causing the fence to lean or collapse long after the storm passes. Check the entire perimeter of your fence for damage as well as potential damage and shore up any weak spots. Before letting pets roam freely in the yard, also inspect the perimeter for low-lying spots and areas that might have washed out during heavy rains, leaving easy-to-dig escape routes for adventurous animals. Also, inspect the yard for any broken glass or other sharp debris before leaving pets unattended.
Dangers with generators: carbon monoxide poisoning
If you are using a combustion engine generator to provide electricity and AC while your power is out, think twice, and certainly do not put it inside your home.
Generators can cause death through carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.
CO is an odorless, colorless gas that can kill or seriously and permanently injure people who inadvertently breathe in the noxious fumes emitted from generators in an enclosed space.
During hurricane season, emergency rooms see a rise in cases of CO poisoning from people bringing generators into their homes to provide power, often for air conditioning.
“During Hurricane Rita, we had a family of five die here in Houston for CO poisoning,” reminds UTHealth Medical School associate professor Dr. Caroline Fife. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracked deaths from CO poisoning due to combustion engines after Katrina and Rita and there was a dramatic increase.”
Food—keep or save?
- Depending on how long your electricity was out, be careful what foods you believe are still edible from your freezer or refrigerator. Err on the side of caution. Meats, poultry and mayonnaise-based products become suspect after two hours at room temperature.
- If your electricity is out, refrain from opening the freezer. A full freezer can stay frozen or cold for a couple of days.
- Dry goods, like cereals, rice, and flour must be checked for moisture. If they were not sealed airtight, or had been opened previously, consider throwing out.
- Wash off all canned goods before opening.
- Homeowners and windstorm insurance policies, as well as FEMA, allow claims for food spoiled due to loss of power from storms. Before throwing out that melted ice cream and tainted rump roast, make note of the price you paid for each item.
Texts are best
When cell phone towers are jammed due to high volume, text messaging is your best bet. You should still plan ahead, however. Make sure your friends and family members have texting capabilities on their phones and check phone plans to make sure you won’t rack up monstrous bills with per-message charges. Although, post-Ike, some carriers were willing to upgrade cell phone plans to add free texts or add minutes retroactively to cover the time period of the storm. [Note: Certain carriers allowed post-Ike customers to add unlimited texts for an additional $10/month. Pre-Ike plans allowed, for example, 30 free messages and 30 cents per after that.]