Recovering From a Disaster

Cleanup Safety 

After a disaster, the physical devastation to a community is obvious. Disaster cleanup presents its own unique set of hazards. These tips can help keep you, your family and coworkers safe as you begin to put your home or business back in order:

  • Avoid walking through flowing water. Drowning is the number one cause of flood deaths, with most of these drownings occurring during flash floods. Six inches of moving water can knock you off your feet. Use a pole or stick to test the firmness of the ground before you walk through areas where the water has receded.
  • Do not drive through a flooded area. More people drown in their cars than anywhere else. If you are driving and come upon rapidly rising waters, turn around and find another route. Don't drive around road barriers; the road or bridge may be washed out. If your car stalls in rapidly rising waters, get out immediately and climb to higher ground.
  • Stay away from power lines and electrical wires. Report downed power lines to your utility company or local emergency manager. Electrical current can travel through water, so electrocution is a major killer in flooded areas.
  • Turn off your electricity when you return to your home or business. Some appliances, such as television sets, can shock you even after they have been unplugged. Don't use appliances or motors that have gotten wet unless they have been taken apart, cleaned and dried.
  • Keep listening to your battery-powered radio for news. Local stations will tell you what to do, where to go or places to avoid.
  • Watch for animals, especially snakes. Small animals that have been flooded out of their homes may seek shelter in yours. Use a pole or stick to poke and turn items over and scare away small animals.
  • Look before you step. After a flood, the ground and floors are covered with debris, including broken bottles and nails. Floors and stairs that have been covered with mud can be very slippery. When working in debris-strewn areas, be alert for shifting materials, holes and live electrical wires.
  • Work safe and smart. Prevent back injury by paying special attention when handling debris, building materials or other heavy objects. Work in teams when lifting bulky objects that weigh more than 50 pounds. Rest frequently and drink a glass of fluid every 15-20 minutes while you are working so you do not become dehydrated.
  • Be alert for gas leaks. Use a flashlight to inspect for damage. Don't smoke or use candles, lanterns or open flames unless you are sure that the gas has been turned off and the area has been aired out. Carbon monoxide exhaust kills. Use a generator or other gasoline-powered machine outdoors. The same goes for camping stoves. Fumes from charcoal are especially deadly -- cook with charcoal only outdoors.
  • Clean everything that got wet. Floodwaters have picked up sewage and chemicals from roads, farms, factories and storage buildings. Spoiled food, flooded cosmetics and medicines are health hazards. When in doubt, throw it out.
  • Take good care of yourself. Recovering from a flood is a big job. It is tough on both the body and the spirit. The effects this disaster is having on you and your family may last a long time.

Chemical & Electrical Hazards

When you return to areas damaged by flooding, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advises extreme caution. The debris left behind by the flood can be a source of injury or illness. It is important to be careful when cleaning damaged structures or handling debris.

Be aware of potential chemical hazards you may encounter during repair and recovery efforts. Floodwaters may have buried or moved hazardous chemical containers of solvents or other industrial chemicals from their normal storage places.


Do not attempt to remove any propane tanks. These represent a very real danger of fire or explosion. The EPA urges you to call police or fire departments to report locations.

Car Batteries

Car batteries may contain an electrical charge. You should wear insulated gloves when removing car batteries and avoid coming in contact with any acid that may have spilled.

Safety Tips

Follow these safety tips:

  • Wear gloves and work boots.
  • Hazardous materials need to be separated from other trash.
  • Wash your hands after any cleanup.
  • Treat electrical lines and outlets with extreme care. Don't assume power is off!

Check your water heater. If floodwaters got into the gas burner, electrical parts or insulation, contact a professional to service or replace it. If it was not flooded, be sure to flush clean water through it before you wash dishes or clothes with hot water.

Hiring Contractors

Watch out for dishonest contractors who may try to take advantage of you. Be especially alert for door-to-door solicitors who ask for large cash deposits or for entire payments in advance. You may find that the work is never performed or the down payment is never returned.

Before you sign a contract or make down payments, make sure you receive a written estimate from the contractor. Beware of offers that seem too good to refuse. Ask for references and check with your friends, neighbors and relatives before deciding which contractor to choose.

If you have been victimized or you are concerned about people representing themselves as contractors, contact the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation's Compliance and Investigation Division or your Better Business Bureau.