Personal Resource Center

Recovering from a Natural Disaster Takes a Toll

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If you live in a presidentially declared disaster area, you may receive financial assistance from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

How to Recover Physically From a Natural Disaster

Your home has just been through a natural disaster involving water or wind or both. Now what do you do? After taking a deep cleansing breath, start assessing the damage. Then you can begin working to fix some of the problems. What you can't fix, professionals probably can. Here's a step-by-step list to help you out.

1. Make sure the house is safe to enter

Common safety concerns after a disaster include leaking gas, electrical hazards and structural issues.

Gas leaks: Gas pipes can get broken due to wind or flood water. If there's a gas smell, don't enter the home. Leaking gas puts you at risk of both fire and carbon monoxide poisoning. First, you'll need to shut off the gas or call the gas company to do it.

Electrical hazards: Flood waters and wind can create electrical hazards due to downed wires. Water is also dangerous around electrical outlets and appliances. If you didn't turn off your power before the storm by shutting off each circuit breaker and then the main breaker, you'll need to do that now for safety. But you can only turn power off if you're standing on a dry space. If you have to stand in water — or if you have any other concerns about safety — vacate your home and get an electrician to turn off the power.5

Structural issues: Wind and water can damage your roof and other structural elements of your home. That's why you should inspect key places in your home for damage after a storm. Look at the roof to see if any shingles are missing or damaged. Also review fascia damage; the board that runs just below the roof. You or a handyman can cover holes in the roof with a tarp while you're waiting for a roof replacement. Inspect your foundation for damage, too. Signs of foundation problems include cracked drywall, gaps between exterior windows and walls, cracks in the floor and basement support structures that have moved. If you're unsure there's damage, call a home inspector to evaluate.

2. Get standing water out

Once your electricity is safely turned back on, you can remove standing water left in the home with a wet/dry shop vac or sump pump. Also, open all the windows, get fans to blow the air out and start running any dehumidifiers you might have to prevent mold.6

3. Remove contaminated items to prevent mold

While removing water and drying out the structure are important to preventing mold, it's not sufficient. Wet items should be considered contaminated and removed from the house. Besides growing mold, items wet from hurricane or flood water can contain sewage, hazardous chemicals and wildlife, such as rodents and snakes.7

4. Salvage what you can and throw away the rest

A good barometer for knowing what you can keep and what needs to be thrown away is this: anything that can be dried out and cleaned can be salvaged. Think dishes, metals, and glass — items that don't absorb a lot of water. But couches, bedding and clothing probably need to go.6

5. Assess whether you need to replace structural elements

Any carpet and padding that got wet needs to go because of mold. Wood or laminate floors that have buckled from water damage probably need to go as well. If the walls show water damage, that usually means the sheetrock and insulation are wet and need to be removed. Otherwise, mold is likely to grow on those items, and any bacteria from the waters typically will remain.6

6. Call a flood/mold remediation company

If you've suffered flood damage and your home needs work that's too difficult or dangerous to do yourself, call a flood/mold remediation company.8 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends you hire a professional affiliated with or certified by one of following:

  • National Environmental Health Association (NEHA)
  • American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA)
  • Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC)
  • American Council for Accredited Certification (ACAC)

Check out more information on recovering physically from storm damage.

Important disclosure information

This content is general in nature and does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.

  1. DisasterAssistance.gov, "Address Look-up," accessed February 14, 2024.

  2. FEMA, "Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) Locator," accessed February 14, 2024.

  3. USA.gov, "Financial Assistance After a Disaster," accessed February 14, 2024.

  4. IRS.gov, "About Publication 547, Casualties, Disasters, and Thefts," updated June 2, 2023; accessed February 14, 2024. Back
  5. CDC, “Reentering Your Flooded Home," Reviewed June 14, 2022; February 14, 2024.

  6. Interview, Alan Agadoni, Registered Environmental Property Assessor (REPA) and Certified Environmental Auditor. Back
  7. CDC, "Floodwater After a Disaster or Emergency, "Reviewed October 4, 2022; accessed February 14, 2024.

  8. CDC, “Homeowner's and Renter's Guide to Mold Cleanup After Disasters," Reviewed November 14, 2022, accessed February 14, 2024. Back