Recovering from a disaster is usually a gradual process. Safety is a primary issue, as are mental and physical well-being. If assistance is available, knowing how to access it makes the process faster and less stressful.
Returning home can be both physically and mentally challenging. Above all, use caution. You may be anxious to see your property but do not return to your home before the area is declared to be safe by local officials.
Inspect your home carefully before entering.
Walk carefully around the outside and check for loose power lines, gas leaks and structural damage. If you have any doubts about safety, have your residence inspected by a qualified building inspector or structural engineer before entering.
Be cautious when entering your home after a disaster.
When you go inside your home, there are certain things you should and should not do. Enter the home carefully and check for damage. Be aware of loose boards and slippery floors. The following items are other things to check inside your home:
Natural gas. If you smell gas or hear a hissing or blowing sound, open a window and leave immediately. Turn off the main gas valve from the outside, if you can. Call the gas company from a neighbor’s residence. If you shut off the gas supply at the main valve, you will need a professional to turn it back on. Do not smoke or use oil, gas lanterns, candles or torches for lighting inside a damaged home until you are sure there is no leaking gas or other flammable materials present.
Sparks, broken or frayed wires. Check the electrical system unless you are wet, standing in water or unsure of your safety. If possible, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If the situation is unsafe, leave the building and call for help. Do not turn on the lights until you are sure they’re safe to use. You may want to have an electrician inspect your wiring.
Roof, foundation and chimney cracks. If it looks like the building may collapse, leave immediately.
Appliances. If appliances are wet, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. Then, unplug appliances and let them dry out. Have appliances checked by a professional before using them again. Also, have the electrical system checked by an electrician before turning the power back on.
Water and sewage systems. If pipes are damaged, turn off the main water valve. Check with local authorities before using any water; the water could be contaminated. Pump out wells and have the water tested by authorities before drinking. Do not flush toilets until you know that sewage lines are intact.
Food and other supplies. Throw out all food and other supplies that you suspect may have become contaminated or come in to contact with floodwater.
Open cabinets. Be alert for objects that may fall.
Clean up household chemical spills. Disinfect items that may have been contaminated by raw sewage, bacteria, or chemicals. Also clean salvageable items.
Call your insurance agent. Take pictures of damages. Keep good records of repair and cleaning costs.
SEEKING DISASTER ASSISTANCE
Direct assistance to individuals and families may come from any number of organizations, including:
American Red Cross
Local volunteer organizations
These organizations provide food, shelter, supplies and assist in clean-up efforts.
In the most severe disasters, the federal government is also called in to help individuals and families with temporary housing, counseling (for post-disaster trauma), low-interest loans and grants, and other assistance. The federal government also has programs that help small businesses and farmers.
Most federal assistance becomes available when the President of the United States declares a “Major Disaster” for the affected area at the request of a state governor. FEMA will provide information through the media and community outreach about federal assistance and how to apply.
COPING WITH DISASTER
Disasters are upsetting experiences for everyone involved. The emotional toll that disaster brings can sometimes be even more devastating than the financial strains of damage and loss of home, business or personal property.
Children, senior citizens, people with access or functional needs, and people for whom English is not their first language are especially at risk. Children may become afraid and some elderly people may seem disoriented at first. People with access or functional needs may require additional assistance.
Seek crisis counseling if you or someone in your family is experiencing issues with disaster-related stress.
Understand the individual effects of a disaster:
Everyone who sees or experiences a disaster is affected by it in some way.
It is normal to feel anxious about your own safety and that of your family and close friends.
Profound sadness, grief and anger are normal reactions to an abnormal event.
Acknowledging your feelings helps you recover.
Focusing on your strengths and abilities helps you heal.
Accepting help from community programs and resources is healthy.
Everyone has different needs and different ways of coping.
It is common to want to strike back at people who have caused great pain.
Children and older adults are of special concern in the aftermath of disasters. Even individuals who experience a disaster “second hand” through exposure to extensive media coverage can be affected.
Talk to someone and seek professional help for disaster-related stress.
The following are ways to ease disaster-related stress:
Talk with someone about your feelings - anger, sorrow and other emotions - even though it may be difficult.
Seek help from professional counselors who deal with post-disaster stress.
Do not hold yourself responsible for the disastrous event or be frustrated because you feel you cannot help directly in the rescue work.
Take steps to promote your own physical and emotional healing by healthy eating, rest, exercise, relaxation and meditation.
Maintain a normal family and daily routine, limiting demanding responsibilities on yourself and your family.
Spend time with family and friends.
Participate in memorials.
Use existing support groups of family, friends and religious institutions.