The worst has happened: A hurricane struck your community, forcing you and your loved ones to flee to safety. Once the imminent danger has passed, you’ll likely be left with a lot of questions—namely, what’s next? How do you even begin to recover from the devastating impact of a natural disaster?
Whether the hurricane decimated your town or the community escaped largely unscathed, following these steps will keep you safe after a hurricane. Stacker compiled expert advice from organizations such as the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to come up with this list of things you need to do after a hurricane. Take these steps to return to your home, assess the damage and begin to rebuild while staying safe. Remember: Even after the weather report clears, the negative effects of a hurricane can still linger.
Even after the hurricane or tropical storm has passed, you’ll want to stay tuned into the latest weather report. Listen to NOAA weather radio or watch the local news to stay ahead of all the latest developments.
Strong winds can knock out cell towers and phone lines, making it difficult to call your loved ones after a hurricane. Typically, telecommunications companies send out large trucks carrying satellite dishes after an emergency to provide service, at least temporarily. Even so, you should refrain from making too many calls to reduce network congestion: Others might still be trying to call 911. Instead, use texting or social media to connect with your friends and family.
Once a hurricane passes, your first instinct might be to go home as soon as possible. It’s natural to be anxious about your home, neighborhood, and community. Still, experts say you should wait for local authorities to let you know that it’s safe before you go home.
Roads can be full of danger after a hurricane or tropical storm. Be wary of floodwater: Since it’s extremely difficult to tell how deep the waters are, it’s best not to drive through them. Floodwater can also be full of contaminants like raw sewage, industrial chemicals, and bacteria, so avoid personal contact with it at all costs. If you see any downed power lines, steer clear and call 911 right away. Other large debris such as uprooted trees or flipped cars can be reported to local authorities.
Surging floodwaters can break gas lines or dislodge seals, causing dangerous gas leaks. When you return to your home for the first time, use a flashlight rather than a candle to light your way. That way, if there is a gas leak, you won’t accidentally cause an explosion. If you do smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main valve and call your gas company, police department and fire department immediately.
Hurricanes and tropical storms can also contaminate the tap water with the same harmful bacteria found in floodwater. Don’t drink or cook with tap water until local authorities give the OK.
As soon as you are able to return to your home, check for any damage. Walk through the house room by room, taking photos of any issues you notice. That way, you’ll be prepared to file any necessary insurance claims and begin repairs.
If your home has been damaged in the storm, you should notify your insurance company as soon as possible. Provide a general description of the damage, as well as any photographs you took of the losses.
Even if the worst of the storm has passed, lingering weather can still prove problematic. Once it’s safe to return to your property, take steps to prevent even more damage. If falling trees punctured your roof, cover any holes with a tarp to keep out rainwater. If your windows have been blown out, tape plastic sheeting over the opening. Since most insurance doesn’t cover damage sustained after the storm, this step could be crucial.
Ensure that your home is safe to inhabit before starting any cleanup or repairs. Contact a licensed contractor to check the building’s structural integrity, an electrician to check your wiring, a plumber to check the water lines and the gas company to check for any gas line breaks.
Even if your home didn’t sustain much damage, you’ll likely have to clean up a lot of debris on your property. And since that debris might have been contaminated by floodwater, you don’t want to use your bare hands. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend wearing safety gear such as heavy work gloves, waterproof boots, goggles and hard hats during disaster cleanup.
Start the process of cleaning up by airing out your home and throwing out any wet items that won’t dry quickly, like mattresses, couches, and books. If mold has already started to grow, clean it up with a mixture of bleach and water. Drywall and insulation that has been soaked by floodwater has got to go, too.
Experts also say you should be careful not to over-exert yourself as you recover from a hurricane: Emotions often run high after a disaster, so physical tasks can tire you out more quickly than usual.
As you begin to rebuild, consider updating your home to better prepare yourself for the next storm. Strengthening your garage doors, installing storm shutters, removing damaged trees and other storm preparation measures can help prevent future damages. Follow FEMA’s recommendations for residential coastal construction as you rebuild.
Insuring your home for hurricane damage can be a little tricky. Homeowners insurance typically doesn’t cover damage from floodwaters but often does cover damage from high winds. Flood insurance will cover water damage, however. If you don’t have it already, you might want to consider buying flood insurance from an insurer that participates in the National Flood Insurance Program.