After the Disaster: Now What?

Drink Clean Water This is by far the most important thing. Access to clean drinking water after a natural disaster is critical to survival, but water can be a challenge to get a hold of. Different disasters affect water sources differently; however, in all cases, consider water from wells, cisterns, and any other delivery systems contaminated until tested and proved safe for drinking. In an emergency, it's best to use bottled water if at all possible. If it is not available, it's safe to use water from neighboring municipalities that weren't affected by the disaster. Also, if plumbing fixtures in your house weren't damaged, you can get water from your water heater or water pressure tank. Make sure to boil water that could possibly be contaminated in order to get rid of microorganisms and bacteria. However, make sure your local water supplier or health department has given an official boil order before doing so. Otherwise, the water could still contain harmful substances that boiling doesn't get rid of. Call Your Insurance Agency ASAP Even if you don't have insurance that covers the particular damage, some policies cover living expenses while you are out of your house. If you don't have insurance, call the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at 1-800-621-FEMA to apply for federal disaster assistance. Protect Yourself When returning to your damaged home, take a few cautionary steps to prevent harm. Wear protective clothing, like gloves, boots, and long pants, which will protect you from debris, chemicals, and bacteria. If there is any sort of water damage there is a possibility of mold spores in the air, so wear a face mask to keep you from inhaling them. If you smell gas, open a window and leave immediately. If it's possible, turn off the main gas valve from outside, and then call the gas company. If your appliances are wet, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box, unplug the appliances, and let them dry out before using again. You may want to have them inspected by a professional. Assess the Damage Go through your house and thoroughly inspect everything from top to bottom. Check for cracks or erosion in the foundation, make sure major systems like the air conditioning work, and check appliances to make sure they operate. Make a written list of damage in addition to taking photographs. If you have any photos of your house from before the disaster, the extent of damage done is much easier to identify for insurance purposes. When the adjuster comes to assess the damage, be ready with documents, receipts, photos, and anything else to help prove the extent of damage that has been done. Make Temporary Repairs Do what you can to prevent any further damage from happening to your home by making minor repairs. Be careful, however, not to remove any evidence of the damage so that an adjuster is able to make a correct assessment. By making an effort to avoid more damage, an adjuster is more likely to approve the claims you make than if you let your home get even worse. What to Throw Away Almost any textiles, like carpet, mattresses, bedding, clothing, stuffed animals, etc., that have been submerged in water for some time should probably just be thrown away. The dirt and odors that are imbedded in the fabric will most likely never come out. Also, they have the potential of containing mold spores that could cause serious risks to your health. The safest thing to do is to just replace them. Textiles that weren't in water, but were exposed to the combination of heat and humidity, may have had the opportunity to grow mildew. Do what you can to remove it, but in the end, these too might have to be thrown away. What to Do With Your Food Frozen food: If the meat still contains ice crystals and feels as cold as if refrigerated, it's okay to refreeze it. However, if it's thawed or has been in forty-degree temperatures or higher for more than two hours, throw it away. Fruits are pretty salvageable. Unless there is mold or sliminess, it's okay to refreeze juices, and home or commercially packaged fruit. Vegetables can be refrozen if there are still ice crystals, but if they are thawed, they belong in the trashcan. You can refreeze most breads and pastries unless they contain custard or cheese fi llings, likes cake and pie, which you should get rid of. Refrigerated food: If meat is still cold or has been in forty-degree temperatures or lower for less than two hours, it's okay to keep. Anything over two hours should be thrown out. Just like meat, dairy products are good if still chilled, but anything else goes in the garbage. The exceptions are butter and hard cheeses, which are safe to keep if they are exposed to warmer temperatures. All fruits and vegetables are safe to keep, unless they have been cooked. Breads are generally safe, except pasta--especially if it is in a sauce. Coping With the Stress Natural disasters turn lives upside-down and cause a lot of emotional stress for victims. Feelings of panic, despair, anxiety, and anger are common symptoms disaster victims experience. These feelings are natural reactions to trauma, but it's important to address them. Give yourself time to heal. Don't expect everything to be better immediately, and don't get frustrated when it doesn't happen when you want it to. Ask for help from others. There are people out there more than willing to help-- all you have to do is ask. Be healthy. This means eating a proper diet, getting good sleep, and exercising. Having a healthy body will enhance your ability to cope with stress. Helping Children Cope The stress and fear that follow a natural disaster can be especially hard for children. Some may regress to younger behaviors, they may become more prone to nightmares, their grades in school may suffer, or they may become extremely noisy or quiet. There are several things a parent can do to help their children cope. Spend more time with them and allow them to cling to you. Physical affection has a healing power. Keep regular schedules for things like playing, eating, and going to bed. This will help restore a sense of normalcy and comfort. Remember, safety is your first priority. Take care of yourself and your family, and be patient as you work to rebuild.
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