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Hurricane Harvey: What do we do now?

Hurricane Harvey: What do we do now?

ProSys Employees Personal Experiences

As the flood water continues to be an issue for most of southeastern Texas, ProSys employees are reminded of our trials during such a period just a year ago, when many of our team were displaced during the severe storms that flooded over 55% of the homes in Baton Rouge. 

Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to all who have been and will continue to be impacted in the same way by the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. As we are working this week, we cannot help but think about the pain and loss you are feeling right now and will for the foreseeable future.

Our own personal experiences have left us with a wealth of information that we would like to pass on to you during this time. Please take a moment to read the points made by our team to help you prioritize and get the assistance you will need.

1. File for Assistance Immediately

First things first, if you don’t have flood insurance, start an online application for FEMA at https://www.fema.gov/individual-disaster-assistance. It is important to do this as soon as possible, especially if you will need temporary housing. FEMA will reimburse you for one dehumidifier. Save all receipts - there is an upload center for documents and receipts.

If you do have flood insurance, contact your agent first and then contact your mortgage company. If you have a mortgage on the property, you’ll need to let the mortgage holder know. They’ll be a part of the rebuilding process and you’ll most likely have funds processed through them to rebuild. They may be willing to delay your house payments for a few months to assist until you sort things out. (But be mindful that these payments will all become due at the end of the delay period.)

Stay informed and use resources available to flood victims:

2. Photograph Everything

Take pictures and videos. Before you remove any water or make any repairs, fully document the damage for your insurer, FEMA, or your tax deduction (casualty loss). Take before and after pictures. Before pictures to show proof of damage and to remember what to purchase when replacing items. After pictures to show progress and completion of work.

Store a copy in the cloud and in your safe deposit box. Make sure that photos are time stamped. There are several apps available for your phone – Timestamp it, TimeStamp, Photo time Stamp are some free apps.

3. Protect Your Health

Your health is more important than physical items and will not be readily replaced. Once you have filed your claims and started documenting everything, take a moment and get checked out for any health issues that may arise and secure the safety of your family. The following are great points to follow:

  • Get a tetanus shot if you have not had one recently. Most of the local drug stores and pharmacies (CVS, Kroger, Walgreens) can administer them and they are usually 100% covered by your health insurance.
  • Make sure the building is structurally safe - Look for buckled walls or floors.
  • If the main power switch was not turned off prior to flooding, do not re-enter your home until it is safe to do so.
  • If the main electrical panel was under water, it must be cleaned, dried, and tested by a qualified electrician to ensure that it is safe.
  • Appliances that may have been flooded pose a risk of shock or fire when turned on. Do not use any appliances, heating, pressure, or sewage system until electrical components have been thoroughly cleaned, dried, and inspected.
  • Don’t turn on the air conditioning until any part that was wet can get cleaned, including ducts, returns and pans. Change the filter immediately. During cleaning and reconstruction, filters should be replaced weekly.
  • Floors are slippery, wear waterproof shoes with good traction.
  • Watch for broken glass and other potentially dangerous debris.
  • Even if the water in your home is clear, it is probably contaminated. Wear rubber gloves to remove damaged property from your home.
  • Be aware that there may be snakes and rodents, even alligators where they wouldn’t normally be. Make sure you have plenty of light, don’t stick your hand in a dark place.

4. Be Proactive

Start a flood notebook and file folders to keep track of all the information. You are going to have a lot of information, phone numbers, policy numbers, deadlines, etc. to keep track of and you’ll want all of that information in one place.

After you take photos and videos, gather up valuables and documents that did not get wet and store them in a dry safe place. Be sure to keep tax returns, a household bill with your name/address on it and your identification handy. It will be needed for proof of residence.

Immediate Needs

  • Reserve a storage room or a portable pod ASAP. These will be in high demand and extremely difficult to locate in the weeks to come.
  • Reserve your rental car ASAP. These will also be in high demand. If you need a new car, travel outside your area, shop online.
  • Find a more permanent place to stay. The rebuilding process will take longer than you would expect because of the masses trying to rebuild all at once.

Make Important Phone Calls

  • Cancel some of your utilities. You won’t be using a lot of your excess things like cable, internet, alarm services (if system is damaged), etc. for a bit so if you can, pause or cancel those temporarily. Some companies will be great about this, some won’t.
  • Call your cell service provider. If you begin to run low on data/service, call and ask for help. Once the area is declared a natural disaster, some providers will extend your limits for the month so you’re able to make those important calls. FYI - Sprint has already issued a notice that they are waiving excess data in certain areas for Hurricane Harvey.
  • Call the tax assessor. This isn’t something that needs to be done right away. However, make a note to call them when you have time. They should know by the area you live in if you were damaged, but it’s better to make sure. In Baton Rouge, all flood damaged homes were assessed only half of the property tax for 2016. The taxes returned to pre-flood assessment for 2017.

Order Supplies and Replacement Items

  • Order furniture and appliances with 90-120 day delivery dates and extend as necessary. We took advantage of Labor Day weekend and holiday sales last year.
  • Order doors, blinds, bathtubs, sinks, counter tops, baseboards, trimming, cabinets from out of town/out of state. These items will be out of stock locally as demand grows.
  • Ask about special discounts and promotions as you start shopping to replace household items; e.g. Bed, Bath, and Beyond offered 20% off entire purchases for months to help replace household items. Have FEMA number handy.

Order hard-to-find items online:

  • Dehumidifiers
  • Moisture Meters
  • Fans
  • Plastic bins
  • Garbage bags
  • Rubber gloves
  • Mold control spray

 

Other materials needed:

  • Lysol – don’t use bleach
  • Buckets
  • Mops
  • Shovels
  • Laundry detergent
  • Shop Vac
  • Extension cords
  • Cleaning rags
  • Sprayers (separate sprayers for Lysol and Mold control)
  • Saw horses and plywood or tables
  • Pressure washer

5. Start the Cleaning Process

Do whatever it takes to get back to your home. Cleaning is critical: empty the refrigerator, drawers, and closets; cut away baseboards, sheetrock, insulation; and dry out walls and floors as soon as possible to prevent mold.

The next thing is to start removing any items that are wet or were wet. Start in the back of the house and move from room to room. Sort what you can keep from what needs to be discarded. Tables make sorting easier, so start by cleaning any folding or outdoor tables so you can use them.

If you don’t have family and friends that can help, your local churches are probably getting groups together to mud out and gut houses. Sometimes volunteers just show up. Take any help that’s offered (as long as you can supervise). In the Greater Baton Rouge area, local restaurants that were not affected set up food stations in shopping center parking lots and also had volunteers driving around delivering sandwiches to the community. Churches and other groups also distributed food and water.

What to Discard

  • All insulation materials, particleboard furniture, mattresses, box springs, stuffed toys, pillows, padding, cushions and furniture coverings that have been exposed to flood water.

What is Salvageable

  • Wood furniture can often be saved. However, it must first be cleaned, disinfected and rinsed, then dried by ventilation away from direct sunlight or heat. Drying too quickly can cause warping and cracking.
  • Clothes can be cleaned. Scrape heavy dirt from washable clothes. Rinse and wash them several times with detergent and dry quickly. If you can’t wash them immediately, hang them in the yard to dry. Once they are completely dry, you can bag them in large trash bags for washing later.
  • All contaminated dishes and utensils have to be thoroughly washed and disinfected - either by using boiling water or by using a sterilizing solution of one part chlorine bleach to four parts water. Rinse dishes and utensils thoroughly.

Dirt and Debris

  • Remove all soaked and dirty materials as well as debris.
  • Break out walls and remove drywall, wood paneling and insulation at least 2 feet above the high-water line.
  • Hose down any dirt sticking to walls and solid-wood furniture then rinse several times.
  • Wash and wipe down all surfaces and structures with unscented detergent, Lysol and water. Rinse.

Structures

  • Ventilate or dehumidify the house until it is completely dry.
  • Rinse and then clean all floors as quickly as possible.
  • You will need to replace flooring that has been penetrated by flood water. Keep a sample of flooring (1 sq. ft.) from each room in the house so insurance gives you proper compensation for those materials.
  • Wood flooring will start to buckle as it dries.
  • Clean all interior wall and floor cavities with Lysol.

Carpets and Furniture

  • Carpets must be discarded immediately.
  • Remove mud and soil from furniture, appliances, etc.
  • If items are just damp, let the mud dry and then brush it off, then clean with Lysol.
  • For upholstered furniture, you have to judge to see what can be salvaged. In the meantime, remove cushions and dry separately. Do not remove upholstery. Raise furniture on blocks and place fans underneath.
  • Wooden furniture: Remove drawers and open doors. Air dry. Do not dry quickly or splitting may occur.

Mold

  • Mold can lead to serious health problems.
  • If you start cleaning right away, you can avoid getting mold.
  • If you are cleaning in a room where mold is present, wear a face mask and disposable gloves.
  • To minimize mold growth, move items to a cool, dry area within 48 hours and set up fans.
  • Some textiles, furs, paper and books can be frozen until they are able to be cleaned.

Food and Medicine

  • Dispose of any food that may have come into contact with flood water.
  • All undamaged canned goods must be thoroughly washed and disinfected.
  • Dispose of all medicines, cosmetics and other toiletries that have been exposed to flood water.
  • Dispose of any of the following food items if they have been exposed to flood water:
    • Contents of freezer or refrigerator, including all meats and all fresh fruit and vegetables
    • All boxed foods
    • All bottled drinks and products in jars, including home preserves (since the area under the seal of jars and bottles cannot be properly disinfected)
    • Cans with large dents or damage

6. What the Federal Flood Insurance Program Covers

7. Repairs

If you are not going to do the repairs yourself, hire a professional water remediation specialist. These folks will be swarming your area soon and a lot of them do demo too. They’ll professionally dry the home after the demo and treat the studs etc. for mold. You’ll want to hold on to the “dry logs” they provide you because insurance will want them and they’ll be handy when/if you sell the home in the future.

If you are doing the repairs yourself, once the moisture levels are low enough and you spray with a mold control product you should do daily moisture readings and keep spreadsheets of your readings. You can use a permanent marker on the studs to number them. You can use directional and numeric indications. For example, in the living room on the north wall, use N1a, b, c, d, N2a, b, c, d, etc. You should mark about 4-6 studs on each wall in 2-4 places depending on the height of the water and sheetrock you have removed.

Get license and insurance info from every contractor you talk to. Do not hire someone who is not licensed and insured. A good contractor will have this with them and will not hesitate to give proof of these things. Beware of out of state companies wanting to gut and treat your home for a "competitive price". NEVER pay upfront for repairs to your home.

8. Recovery

Things always take twice as long as you think they should. We felt sad, overwhelmed, discouraged, scared, and angry at times, but the incredible support and hospitality from loved ones and even strangers gave us the strength and encouragement that we needed to start the rebuilding process. No matter how difficult or impossible things may seem, it will get better. We hope that sharing what we learned along the way will be helpful to you, your family, your friends, and people in your community.

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