This section of the HunkerDown.Guide is all about how to start to pick up the pieces after the hurricane has passed. Damage and disruptions can vary widely, so a holistic approach to recovery is presented.
If you have any questions, feel free to send them in to us using the contact form.Jamie Robe, Hunker Down Guide
What Can You Expect To Experience?
Immediate Safety Risks
Dealing with Long-Term Power Outages
Lights + Communications
Cooking + Food
What To Do About Damage
When you believe this is safe (listen for official word over a portable radio), carefully walk around the house and check for loose power lines, gas leaks, and structural damage. Be extremely careful, as there is a risk of electrocution from downed power lines, falling limbs or trees, and hazardous metal, nails, broken wood, etc. For insurance purposes, take photos of damage to the building and its contents.
There are many hazards to protect yourself after a hurricane, especially if you are involved in clean operations in your home or your community. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is a government agency dedicated to health, and they have a very informative page about safely cleaning up after a storm.
To summarize the CDC information, everyone involved with major post hurricane cleanup and rebuilding needs to be fully prepared for hazards, such as:
- Mold – Moisture breeds mold growth and it is one of the most common and significant health risks after a major hurricane. Flooding, a leaking roof, and even just high humidity in un-airconditioned buildings (due to power outages) can promote the growth of this dangerous organism. If you home is badly damaged you will need to contact a professional mold remediator to evaluate your situation. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has materials about this mold hazard.
TIP – If at all possible, it is critically important to clean up water and dry out your home within the first 24 to 48 hours. If you have a vet vac and power form a generator, you might be able to remove some of the mold threat before it gets a chance to take hold. Opening cabinets, closets, and attic spaces so they can air dry is also helpful. You might consider pulling saturated carpeting and furniture outside for drying or disposal. You may need to throw away anything that is contaminated with moister for more than a day or 2.
- Germs/Chemicals – Anything that has been touched by flood waters should be considered contaminated by germs. Flood waters do not just consist of rainwater or seawater. Raw sewage, dead animals, chemical spills, fuel, and floating garbage are often mixed into a toxic soup. The CDC has a PDF guide to cleanup.
TIP – If you have photos and other irreplaceable documents that are contaminated, the Smithsonian Institute has a page of instructions you can follow to help preserve important items.
- Electrical hazards – After a hurricane or even a tropical storm there could be high-tension wires down. Be extremely careful about walking in water or stepping over branches and debris. Live wires could be intertwined in them. Do not touch wires.
- Heat exhaustion/stroke – The amount of exertion required to clean up and rebuild after a storm, combined with lack of normal comforts (such as air-conditioning), can increase the risk of health issues. To avoid heat stroke you need to keep hydrated as you work.
- Risk of injury from tools – Construction workers who use chainsaws, hammers, drills, and heavy equipment are careful to wear protective gear. Things like gloves, respirators, face masks, helmets, etc. They are also presumably well trained in the safe operation of the tools they use. Be extremely careful if you are trying to work with unfamiliar tools, especially under primitive conditions.
- Loss of hearing due to noise exposure – One of the most common risks after a hurricane is actually to your hearing. There are often many heavy machines and tools being operated during a cleanup operation, and noise form these can get to dangerous levels. Exposures (above 90 dBA) can come from heavy equipment, chippers, chain saws and industrial vacuums. 3M has created the Center for Hearing Conservation which provides information, guidance and tools to help you to protect yourself and other workers in hazardous noise conditions.
Keep in mind that people with chronic conditions, such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes, may experience worsening condition due to the extra physical effort. Psychological stress can also be a major factor in a hurricane disaster area. Maintain mental and spiritual health can be as important as physical health.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has a 72 page guides and tip sheet to help homeowners and renters with the proper clean-up and restoration of a home after a disaster.
If you have insurance policies, seeking assistance by filing a claim should take priority. After that step has been completed, or if you do not have insurance, the US Federal Government has many programs to help citizens after a hurricane disaster.
- Homeowner’s Insurance
- To file a claim with your homeowner’s insurance policy you will need these basic things:
- A copy of your policy that you have carefully reviewed – you need to know what is covered and should get legal advise if you do not understand your rights.
- Documentation to support your claim, as well as substantiate what was damaged or lost.
- This document about filing a claim gives a pretty good explanation of the general process involved.
- To file a claim with your homeowner’s insurance policy you will need these basic things:
- Flood Insurance
- If you experienced a flood and have a National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) policy, NFIP has a how-to file an insurance claim document. It helps you to understand your coverage and work with your adjuster and agent.
- NFIP has a list of all their insurance providers along with their 800 numbers.
TIP – You may be experiencing massive stress and anxiety after a storm disaster, and you may not be thinking as clearly as you would under normal conditions. Claims can become very complex due to the technical aspects of what is covered or not. You have a right under the State and Federal Constitutions to have an attorney report your claim and deal with the insurance company for you.
Government and Nonprofit
- Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA):
- 1-800-621-3362 for voice
- 1-800-462-7585 for the speech/hearing-impaired.
- Apply for disaster aid online at www.fema.gov or www.disasterassistance.gov
- If you are eligible for Transitional Sheltering Assistance, FEMA will pay for the cost to stay in certain hotels or motels for a limited period of time. They have a guide to all approved hotels
- Temporary Housing: Help you to rent a different place to live in.
- Home Repair: Provide up to $33,300 for homeowners to repair damaged homes specifically from a disaster that is not covered by insurance. The goal is to repair the home to a safe and sanitary condition. The homeowner may apply for a Small Business Administration disaster loan for additional repair assistance (see below).
- Small Business Administration (SBA) Disaster Assistance Center supplies assistance to businesses and homeowners:
- Apply online for low-interest federal disaster loans are available to businesses and residents
- The SBA FAQ
- The most comprehensive US Federal assistance site appears to be disasterassistance.gov
- You can look up your specific zip code and see what you might be eligible for
- They also have online information and application systems for:
- Career Development Assistance
- Disability Assistance
- Disaster Relief
- Energy Assistance
- Grants, Scholarships, Fellowships
- Legal Counsel
- Living Assistance
- Loan/Loan Repayment
- Mental Health and Substance Abuse
- Social Security
- Veterans-Active Duty
- Individual assistance does not have an income limitation
- The US Army Corp of Engineers works with FEMA on a temporary (or Blue) roof program.
- The American Red Cross plays a big role in disaster recovery
- Red Cross Disaster and Emergency Assistance
- National Number: 1-(800) 733-2767
- To find an open shelter, please visit the American Red Cross website.
- Red Cross also have over a dozen apps for iPhone or Android smartphones
- They have a system for registering yourself so your family knows you are safe
- Churches and other non-profit relief organizations
- This list is a bit dated, but gives you an idea of the types of organizations that help people after a hurricane (in this case it was Harvey)
Surviving and thriving after a hurricane really comes down to 2 things:
- Learning how to both get and give mutual support.
- Becoming more self-sufficient or sustainable.
I think we have covered many of the resources available to help rebuild our homes and our communities after a disaster. I have added a 4th main section to this website that focuses on the sustainability aspect of hurricane preparedness. If we don’t tackle Global Warming, the tropical weather of the future could become many magnitudes worse than it is today. Join us in a further discussion of practical solutions to climate change.