In Florida, hurricane recovery is a part of life, but the damage can be severe. The aftermath of Hurricane Irma was an unforgettable event, with 73 percent of the state without power.
When it comes to hurricanes, Florida leads the nation, ranking as the state with the most hurricanes to make landfall.
Not only are there more storms, but the risk of damage in Florida is greater. If a Category 1 storm surge happens in Florida, more than 350,000 houses in the state are at risk. With a Category 5 storm, that number jumps to 2.8 million. In these cases, even inland cities like Orlando could experience flooding.
As building professionals, we’ve seen the damage hurricanes can do in Florida and the Orlando area, and we’ve helped many homeowners prepare for the Florida hurricane season.
As you get ready to face the aftermath of a storm, this hurricane recovery checklist can help you understand what steps you should take to protect your property after a natural disaster.
Remember: Don’t go home until it’s safe. Follow designated roadways. Don’t enter a building if it could collapse. Document property damage for insurance companies.
1. Check Utilities
A problem with your utility systems creates a very dangerous situation. That makes it the top priority after a hurricane.
Typically, the authorities will check that your home is safe before you’re allowed to return after a hurricane. By knowing the possible risks after a hurricane, you may be able to identify any potential problems before a major issue or injury occurs.
- Electricity: Before you enter a flooded or wet building, make sure a professional has disconnected the electrical meter. Even if the power is out for your area, there’s still a risk of electrocution because a neighbor could be accidentally back-feeding the grid if they have their generator hooked up incorrectly.
- Gas: Gas systems need to be airtight, and it’s possible to get a leak after a hurricane’s wind, rain, and storm surge. This could be a big problem because even the smallest spark can cause an explosion. Don’t try to troubleshoot a gas leak yourself, and immediately report any problems to your utility company. When checking your property, use a battery-powered flashlight, and turn it on outdoors because even the spark of turning on a flashlight could be enough to ignite a gas leak.
As you start your recovery process, you may want to use a generator to power your tools, lights, and essential equipment. Remember to adhere to safety standards to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning or electrocution.
2. Address Any Flooding In Your House
Flooding is a top concern after a hurricane. Not only can mold start to grow within one to two days, but the longer your property is wet, the more damage you could see. Walls and floors can warp or crack. Structural support beams could weaken or decay. And more of your belongings will become damaged as the moisture spreads throughout the house.
Start by assessing the problem and stopping the flow of any new water into your house. Turn off the main water line if necessary. Don’t use the faucets or toilets until the authorities say the water and sewage lines are intact.
Next, take steps to get any standing water out of your house. A sump pump can do the majority of the work for you, pumping out up to 2,000 gallons per hour and switching to a battery backup when the power goes out.
While the speed with which you remove water is important to reducing damage, there are also circumstances when you’ll need to remove water slowly. If your crawl space has had significant flooding, FEMA recommends removing about one-third of the water each day so that you maintain equal pressure between the inside of your crawl space and the saturated ground surrounding it.
If you have a flooded crawl space, schedule a free inspection with certified professionals and get a full diagnosis.
3. Inspect Your Structure
Before you were allowed to enter your home, it was probably inspected for safety. However, this initial inspection is not the comprehensive assessment you’ll need to do as a homeowner.
Inspecting a structure is more than a short-term question of whether your home will collapse soon. You’ll also need to take a long-term view to identify any problems so you can preserve your investment and protect your property.
- Weakened walls
- Roof damage
- Foundation damage
- Chimney cracks
- Sagging floors
- Cracks in walls
- Plumbing pipes that have been displaced
- Windows and doors that have shifted alignment
The amount and type of damage your property could have is related to a number of factors. There’s the force of the wind, its directional shear, major debris issues such as tree limbs, and your home’s existing structural reinforcements.
Look for evidence as to how the storm could have damaged the structural support system. For example, a stuck closet door and a ceiling crack could indicate that the hurricane caused the frame to shift. If there is more structural load in one area of your house, you could have problems with the underlying foundation.
4. Prepare for Gross Stuff
There can be a surprising amount of damage after a hurricane, and cleaning up your property can mean you’ll encounter some unpleasant surprises.
There could be unwanted wildlife in and around your home, and floodwaters can bring gators, snakes, or other creepy crawlies into your neighborhood. You could also find that sewage backed up through your plumbing into your home.
It’s also important to remember that floodwaters can be quite toxic, carrying bacteria, pathogens, or chemicals. The CDC cautions about direct contact with floodwaters could cause skin rashes, GI illnesses, or wound infections.
Take precautions during cleanup and inspection. If sewage is involved, wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, and goggles. Disinfect anything that’s had contact with floodwaters. Thoroughly wash hands and any skin that’s touched floodwaters to stop bacterial spread.
Find out how Florida Foundation Authority can help you protect your home with a free inspection for foundation repair, crawl space moisture management, or drainage issues.