Assessing property damage after flooding, a hurricane, tornado or major thunderstorms can be daunting — especially if your home was in a particularly hard-hit area in the path of high winds or surging water. You could face power outages, water and wind damage, standing water, the need for debris removal plus mold and grime.
Still, an effective cleanup is possible if you plan carefully. Here are suggestions for how to stay safe, limit further damage to your home and ensure you’re documenting property damage appropriately for when it’s time to sort out the post-storm mess.
1. Don’t rush to return
Head home to assess damage only when local authorities say it’s safe to do so. Wait until floodwaters have adequately receded and roadways have been cleared of fallen debris and power lines.
2. Come prepared with proper safety gear
Your home may not have electricity when you return, so pack flashlights or battery-powered lanterns and charge your smartphone beforehand. Also, remember that when hurricane floodwaters enter your home, the water can bring with it “an unknown level of contaminants,” says David Ragsdale, a production manager with Servpro Industries. To protect yourself against potential bacteria and mold, pack plenty of N95 masks and gloves. Ragsdale recommends latex or nitrile gloves — or even simple dishwashing gloves — for cleanup.
Wear closed-toe, sturdy shoes, long pants and long sleeves. Watch out for glass, nails or other debris that could poke through a shoe or clothing.
3. Check the exterior for safety hazards and structural damage
More on Storm Cleanup
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Ready.gov site offer additional information on responding after a disaster or flood.
Before entering the house, check for evidence of downed power lines, gas line leaks, large tree limbs that may have fallen on your roof, or other signs of major structural damage. If you note any of these safety risks, don’t enter without getting a professional opinion about your home’s structural safety.
4. Document everything
Once inside, take photos of everything as it is — before you begin cleaning up. Walk through the house and photograph or record video of each room carefully, noting any damage to the house itself, as well as your furniture, electronics and other personal property. Even photograph the insides of closets, cabinets and drawers. Don’t throw anything to the curb without photographing it first — if you do, it will be difficult to provide your insurance company with a complete damage inventory, says Jim Taylor, head of claims customer relations for Farmers Insurance.