Catastrophic flooding from Hurricane Harvey has damaged at least 49,000 homes, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, and some homeowners will soon face the brutal task of returning to survey the damage.
But even after local authorities declare it is safe for people to return home, there are precautions homeowners should take once they step inside, according to experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Hurricane Survival Initiative and FEMA.
Ahead, a compilation of tips from the three agencies for safely returning home after a hurricane.
Entering the house safely
- – Wear waterproof boots and gloves to avoid floodwater touching the skin.
- – Do not enter a building, light a match or turn on lights if there is any smell of gas and call 911.
- – If there is still standing water, look for sewage and water line damage and turn off electrical power at the main source.
- – Look out for snakes, insects and animals in the floodwaters.
- – Be sure to disinfect hard surfaces that may have come in contact with floodwater.
- – To prevent mold, deep clean inside and open windows and doors to ventilate and dry the house.
- – Only eat and drink food and water that is definitely safe, and remove spoiled foods from refrigerator.
- – Wash hands often with soap and clean water.
Documenting damage for an insurance claim
While FEMA‘s focus remains on their life-saving and life-sustaining mission following the storm, the agency is beginning to shift into recovery mode. FEMA asks that those with flood insurance only return home when it is deemed safe by local officials. Do not rush back before then. Your company will wait for you. Once your home is safe to enter, take photos of everything as you begin to clear out and immediately file a claim with your agent or company. If at anytime you find yourself frustrated or confused with the process, call FEMA. They have staff available to assist with any disaster-related needs.
What to do if you’re uninsured
For those who are uninsured, federal aid is available to cover victims’ rental costs, home repairs, and other expenses. So far, FEMA has approved about 325,000 people for $57 million of individual disaster assistance. People can request assistance from the government by going to disasterassistance.gov or calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (a TTY or Text Telephone number).
Beware of fraud
FEMA is warning victims of Harvey to be aware of fraudulent calls. Many people in southeast Texas have reported receiving robocalls telling them that their policy would be canceled if they did not make an additional payment. The state of Texas, FEMA, and the FTC are warning people that the message is “pure fraud,” according to Roy E. Wright, Director of FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program.
Flood victims are also being targeted by callers who say anyone who filed a claim last year would not be eligible to this year, Wright added, which is also false. If you have a valid current policy, you are covered, he said.
Above all, authorities urge people to only take information from trusted sources, such as insurance agents and companies, local officials, an assigned insurance adjuster or a FEMA representative. Otherwise, do not rely on information from unverified sources.
Victims are not the only people being warned of fraud surrounding the devastating floods in southeast Texas. Art Taylor, CEO of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, told ABC News that people should be wary of illegitimate charities. Taylor said to be wary when receiving unsolicited emails.
“If you never heard of a group before and you get email from a charity asking you for money, I would be very cautious,” Taylor warned.
Most reputable groups will only reach out directly to you if you have a prior relationship, according to Taylor.
“Sometimes you’ll hear charities making up names to sound like other organizations. Be really careful that you’re giving to the group you intend to give to.”