Hurricane Irma: Returning Home and Cleaning Up Safely

Mom and little boy playing in the rain.
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Tree-strewn lawns, dangling power lines, flooded streets these are the scenes that many Orlando residents woke up to this morning as Hurricane Irma swept through the region. Now that the worst of the storm has passed, the challenges of cleanup begin.

If your house sustained damage from Hurricane Irma, here are some tips for returning home, removing debris and getting your property back to clean, safe living conditions:

  • If you evacuated, make sure it is safe to return to your community before entering. Drive carefully, as roads may contain flood water, fallen trees and other debris.
  • Keep an eye out for snakes, rodents, bugs and other animals inside your home or on your property.
  • Before you enter your home, inspect the property for damaged power or gas lines and structural damage such as foundation cracks.
  • If you smell natural gas or propane, or hear hissing sounds, leave the home immediately and call the fire department.
  • Check ceilings and floors for sagging, which may indicate water damage.
  • Take pictures of any damage, inside and out. You may need these for insurance purposes.
  • If your home was flooded, dangerous mold can start forming immediately even from small amounts of water. Take quick steps (within 24 to 48 hours) to prevent or eliminate mold:
    • Open windows and doors to air out and dry your house. Use fans on wet areas.
    • Clean any wet items and wipe down all surfaces
    • Discard waterlogged items and anything you cant dry quickly, such as stuffed animals, clothing, rugs or carpets and upholstered furniture.
    • If mold is already present, you can clean it with a mixture of bleach and water. Add a cup of liquid household bleach to one gallon of water and mix well. Open windows or doors for ventilation while cleaning, and always protect your hands by wearing rubber gloves. NEVER mix bleach with ammonia or other household cleaners, as they can produce toxic fumes when combined.
  • In cases of more severe flooding, you may need to enlist professional help to remove affected flooring, drywall and insulation.
  • Use extreme caution during outdoor cleanup and removal. Watch for falling or shifting trees and debris.
  • Wear protective clothing and eye protection during cleanup, including: hard hats, goggles, heavy work gloves, waterproof boots (ideally with a steel toe) and headphones if working with loud equipment.
  • Use power tools such as chainsaws with extreme caution.

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