When To Go Home

Go home when disaster officials tell you it is safe to be there and you have a safe way to get there. This is just common sense, but it is amazing how many people will try to sneak back to their house for some reason. In the process, they may drown, get electrocuted, or be shot as a looter. Wait until officials permit residents back into the disaster area and limit your activities to what is allowed. If the danger is passed and your house has been spared, go back when the area is opened. If there is damage, be prepared to use your emergency supplies and systems until everything is back to normal.

Once you go back, check your house systematically. If the house is damaged, wear sturdy work boots, gloves and a dust mask. Do not try to enter the house if it is still in flood water. If the house has suffered fire or roof damage, wait until authorities have determined that it is safe. Use a bright flashlight to do your inspection and pay careful attention to roofs and ceilings that might fall on you. Watch out for wild animals, particularly snakes. Use a stick or mop handle to poke through debris. Take pictures of everything to prove your insurance claims.

Use a flashlight not candles or lanterns to do your inspection. Fire and explosion are a serious risk in a damaged building. Turn your flashlight on before entering the house to keep from producing a spark. If you smell gas or hear a hissing sound, get out quickly. Turn off the main gas valve outside if you can get to it easily. Then call the gas company or report the leak to a firefighter or emergency worker.

Is there power to the house? The electric company will be working to get power back on as quickly as possible. They have a systematic way of doing this. They start at the generating plant and substations and work out from there, repairing breaks as they find them. This returns power to the most people the fastest. If there are no breaks in your personal service lines, then you will get power back as soon as the neighborhood does. Do not report your power outage unless you are asked to do so or until those around you have power and you donít. Leave your breaker off until local power is back on. You do not want to get shocked when something that has been without power suddenly becomes energized.

Is there water service? Check on the status of the city water supply before turning your water back on. If there is serious contamination, do not turn on your water until the city can make repairs. This will help keep your inside lines clean. If the water is only mildly contaminated, there will be an order to boil or treat water before drinking it. With mild contamination, you can turn your water back on and use it out of the tap for cleaning and bathing. Treat it with bleach or boiling before using it for drinking or cooking.

Are the sewers working?† If there is sewage in your house, then it is not time to go back. You cannot live in sewage. If the sewers are not draining, but they are not backed up and there is no contamination in the house, you can set up an emergency toilet system to use until the sewers are working again.

Has the flooding receded? Donít try to reoccupy a house that is still flooded. The water must be down enough that you can clean out the mud and debris and begin to dry out the house. Flooded basements should be pumped out gradually, usually over three or four days. If you pump the basement dry while the surrounding ground is still waterlogged, you may buckle the floor or collapse walls and worsen the damage to your house. Donít turn the power back on until the house is dry enough to be safe.

Is the house clean enough to live in? Clean out all the trash before you move back in. Throw out any foodstuffs that might be bad. Disinfect anything that has been touched by flood water. Put wet things outside to dry. Take clothes, bedding, drapes and the like and get in line at the laundry.

Work through the house until all the rooms are cleaned. Once all the debris is at the curb, everything inside is clean and dry, the walls and roof are keeping out the elements, you have food, water and sewer, and you can bring the family home.