The historic Hurricane Sandy has blown through the northeast U.S., with flooding rains and devastating winds, leaving a wide swath of destruction in her wake. In the days following the epic storm, we're assessing the damage and beginning clean-up efforts.
If you live in one of the harder-hit areas, you may be feeling overwhelmed and not know where to start. And you may need some guidance on picking up the pieces safely.
First and foremost, in your haste to return to life as "normal," don't forget to be cautious and careful.
If you were forced to evacuate and return to find your home damaged, don't go inside before determining that the structure is safe and sound. You should also have the property checked by a professional, to look for gas leaks or unsecured electrical lines.
If you've sustained damage significant enough to warrant filing a homeowners' insurance claim, contact your insurance agent as soon as possible, and fill out the forms to begin the process for your claim. Then take lots of photos and video of your home—inside and out, your vehicles, your belongings and anything else which may have received damage. The insurance company will need proof of the damage. One tip: If you know the damage won't covered by your policy, don't file a claim with your insurance company. It will go on your insurance report and may appear like a claim in the future if you shop for new insurance.
To combat flood damage, first get rid of any standing water. Dry your home by using the air conditioner, de-humidifier and fans. Throw away anything that came into contact with flood waters, especially those made of absorbent material like furniture, rugs and linens. They will breed mold, mildew and other microorganisms which will pose a health hazard. Clean the rest of your home with disinfectant. Wash walls, floors, shelves and any other items that got wet. HVAC ducts should be cleaned with disinfectant and sanitizer if they were exposed. If the job is more than you can handle, call a clean-up and restoration company like ServPro.
When it comes to planning structural repairs to your home, beware of scam artists, who, sadly, capitalize on situations like this to take advantage of people who are already suffering. Hire only licensed and insured workers and contractors for repairs to your home, and check BBB ratings and references, when possible.
If you were able to stay in your home, but the power's still out (maybe you're reading this on your phone), we know you want to avoid losing all the food in your fridge and freezer. Start by transferring fridge foods to a cooler with ice, dry ice, or ice packs, and use the things from your refrigerator first: dairy products, eggs, meats and leftovers. (Optional refrigeration foods, like peanut butter, pickles and olives, will be okay if not refrigerated.) Keep the freezer closed unless you absolutely have to open it. Unfortunately, even with all your efforts, there's a limit to what you can do without electricity, and once perishable items get above 40 degrees Fahrenheit and stay that way for two hours, they should be thrown out.
Are you running out of water? You can use gray water, collected rainwater or even water from a creek or stream to flush toilets. Pour about three gallons into the bowl—not the tank. For clean drinking water, in a pinch you can tap into the water in your water heater by opening the drain valve at the bottom of the tank.
No man is an island. Join together with neighbors to help one another clear debris and downed trees, share meals to use up perishables before they spoil, and show each other support. In just about every task you'll face in the coming days, more hands are better than one.