Be alert and organized
As you return home, watch for downed electrical wires; and weakened walls, bridges, roads and sidewalks.
Inspect your home walking carefully around the outside before entering. Exercise extreme attention to loose power lines, gas leaks and structural damage.
If you have any doubts about safety, have your residence inspected by specialized personnel or a structural engineer before entering.
Do not enter if you smell gas, floodwaters remain around the building or if your home was damaged by fire. Report the situation and wait until the authorities have declared the place safe. If you have reasons to assume that casualties may need help inside, contact the specialized response personnel.
If you decide to enter, use a flash light to inspect dark areas and do not enter in confined areas unless you are sure that are safe. The flashlight should be turned on outside before entering - the battery may produce a spark that could ignite leaking gas, if present. Do not smoke or use oil, gas lanterns, candles or torches for lighting inside a damaged home until you are sure there is no leaking gas or other flammable materials present.
Inspect in a pattern going from the rooms with doors and windows to outside to the more inside rooms and from the ground floor up first before going to any basement.
Keep a radio with you so you can listen for emergency updates on your area.
Watch out for animals that took refuge in the house or rubble, especially poisonous snakes. Use a stick to poke through debris. Help any wild animal to exit without panic keeping a distance. Help any domestic animal with care and get veterinary help.
Use the phone only to report life-threatening emergencies.
Entering your home
Exercise extreme caution when entering your home after a disaster.
When you go inside your home, there are certain things you should and should not do. Enter the home carefully and check for damage. Be aware of fallen items, loose boards and slippery floors. Open cabinets. Be alert for objects that may fall.
Also check for:
- Gas. If you smell gas or hear a hissing or blowing sound, open a window and leave immediately. If you have chance turn off the main gas valve from the outside. Call the gas company from somewhere else. If you shut off the gas supply at the main valve, you will need a professional to turn it back on.
- Sparks and wires. If you are not wet, standing in water or unsure of your safety you should turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If the situation is unsafe, leave the building and call for help. Do not turn on the lights until you are sure they are safe to use. Have an electrician inspect your wiring.
- Cracks on ceiling, roof, walls, foundation or chimney If it looks like the building may collapse or has large cracks, leave immediately.
- Wet appliances. Remember to turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. Then, unplug appliances and let them dry out. Have appliances checked by a professional before using them again.
- Damage in water and sewage systems. If pipes are damaged, turn off the main water valve. Check with local authorities before using any water; the water could be contaminated. Pump out wells and have the water tested before drinking. Do not flush toilets until you know that sewage systems are intact.
- Damages in your basement. If your basement has flooded, pump it out gradually (about one third of the water per day) to avoid damage. The walls may collapse and the floor may buckle if the basement is pumped out while the surrounding ground is still waterlogged.
- Household chemical spills. Clean any spills. Disinfect items that may have been contaminated by raw sewage, bacteria, or chemicals. Also clean salvageable items.
- Damaged food and other supplies. Throw out all food and other supplies that you suspect may have become contaminated or come in to contact with floodwater.
- You may want to take photos of the damage for insurance claim purposes.
Wildlife and lost or stray animals
Be aware of wildlife and stray animals as you return home after a disaster.
Do not approach wild animals that have taken refuge in your home. Wild animals such as snakes, opossums and raccoons often seek refuge from floodwaters on upper levels of homes and have been known to remain after water recedes. If you encounter animals in this situation, open a window or provide another escape route and the animal will likely leave on its own. Do not attempt to capture or handle the animal. Should the animal stay, ask for wildlife and veterinary specialists at the disaster response representatives or authorities. Zoo or animal reserve personnel may also be well qualified to deal with the situation. Do not involve first responders or law enforcement personnel unless they are qualified to deal with animals, unprepared personnel may worsen the situation or hurt the animals.
You may also find animals outside your home, nearby or in your way home. Do not corner wild or scared animals or try to rescue them. Wild and stray animals will likely feel threatened and may endanger themselves by dashing off into floodwaters, fire, and so forth.
Ask for wildlife and veterinary specialists at the disaster response representatives or authorities. Zoo or animal reserve personnel may also be well qualified to deal with the situation. Do not involve first responders or law enforcement personnel unless they are qualified to deal with animals, unprepared personnel may worsen the situation or hurt the animals.
Wild and stray animals often seek higher ground which, during floods, eventually become partially submerged stranding the animals in a sort of island. If the island is large enough and provides suitable shelter, you can leave food appropriate to the species (i.e., sunflower seeds for squirrels).
Animals have a flight response and will flee from anyone approaching too closely. If the animal threatens to rush into the water, back away from the island or you may frighten the animal into jumping into the water to escape from you.
Beware of an increased number of snakes and other predators. These animals will try to feed on the carcasses of reptiles, amphibians and small mammals who have been drowned or crushed in their burrows or under rocks.
Do not attempt to move a dead animal. Animal carcasses can present serious health risks. Outbreaks of anthrax, encephalitis and other diseases may occur. Contact your local emergency management office or health department for help and instructions.
If bitten by an animal, remain calm and seek immediate medical attention.