How to Mend Your Home After Hurricane Irene

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Steve Helber / Associated Press

A woman clears out her destroyed home in the Sandbridge area of Virginia Beach.

I have never been happier to live on the fifth floor of an apartment building than over the past weekend, as I watched Hurricane Irene pound single-family homes in the New York metro area. (I have one relative who was rescued from his flooded home by firefighters on Jet Skis). However, I do remember having a beach house and crying while standing in more than a foot of water that had overwhelmed the sump pumps. If your home’s been flooded, my heart goes out to you. Here are a few tips for reviving your damaged real estate.

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  • Leave the darn pool. In the war between taking care of the swimming pool and the house, the house wins. You don’t want to try to deal with the pool yourself anyway, because trying to restart the pump might cause it to short out, and trying to use the filter to get rid of major debris is just going to overwhelm the filter. Also, if the ground is still very, very wet, draining the pool is just going to cause ground pressure to lift the pool up, which might cause cracking. So leave the pool with water and mud in it, shut the filter and pump off, and call the pool pros. If they can’t get to it for a few days, that’s okay.
  • Be wary of your trees. Even when trees have not toppled, they will be waterlogged and structurally weak for a little while. Treat them as potential dangers until they dry out and can be trimmed for safety.
  • Take photos or video of the damage for your insurance claim. Put a copy of today’s newspaper in the images to establish what date it is. You can add narration if you’re shooting a video (“This is where we had the TV and the sofa, which both got hit hard by the flood water,” for example).
  • Try to get the flood water out of your house as fast as you can. This is a tough one, because obviously if the water table is high, there’s nowhere for the water to go. Also, you don’t want to empty the basement so quickly that it causes structural problems. So you want to try to drain a couple of feet of water, then see if that “takes” or if your basement refills like a bathtub. If you’re bailing — or using a professional wet vacuum — be extremely mindful that mixing electricity and water can kill you. So if you’re in any doubt, wait to have an electrical inspection before using your power. And never attempt any water cleanup without wearing rubber-soled shoes or boots to minimize the risk of electrocution.
  • Bring drinking water. Flood cleanup is hard, thirsty work. However, the water in your house may not be safe to drink for a few days. Bring plenty of bottled water along to help you with cleanup.
  • Treat flood waters as though they were sewage. Flood waters might not be contaminated — but you just don’t know. Toss all the food in basement refrigerators or freezers that have been in contact with floodwaters. Throw out — I’m sorry to have to say this, but it will protect your health — your mattresses. Once everything is dried out, you can buy new ones. Disinfect counters, dishes and other surfaces with a mixture of water and bleach.
  • If you have precious non-food items, call flood pros to attempt to save them. Food, once it has touched flood water, must be tossed. However, that manuscript of your unpublished novel can probably be dried out if you call someone who has the technology to do it. For now, wipe the mud off, toss it into a plastic bag, and throw it into a friend’s freezer.

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For more tips on how to deal with a flooded home, including shutting off your gas appliances until you can inspect the pilot lights and cleaning out your air conditioning ducts, check out the Red Cross booklet “Repairing Your Flooded Home.”

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