Safe Storm Cleanup Tips

A house with a flooded yard.

Cities and counties across the United States are constantly affected by bad weather. From raging floods and mudslides to hurricane force winds, the cleanup process for your home and yard can be time-consuming, costly, and dangerous. The following tips can help safely alleviate the mess left by a storm.

Safety First

Whether you're cleaning up inside or out, doing so in a safe manner is a top priority. Before starting any cleanup project, dress in appropriate clothing such as rubber boots, waterproof boots if you're working on a sewer or septic system, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and rubber gloves.

Use accessories designed for safety such as goggles, earplugs to block out noisy equipment like a chainsaw, a heavy-duty mask or a respirator, and a hard hat. Keep fire extinguishers nearby and have access to water via a hose or bucket in case you plan to burn debris.

Cleaning the Yard

Cutting a tree with a chainsaw.

After a storm, you can expect quite a bit of cleanup in your yard. This is especially true when the storm has produced high winds or flooding water.

Because a yard may be filled with debris causing unsafe conditions such as fallen trees, dangling limbs, hidden objects under leaves or under a fallen outbuilding such as a shed, it's recommended that you do not work alone should an accident occur. Work as a team and never attempt to move unwieldy or heavy objects, trim tree limbs, access the roof, work around electrical wiring, or enter a home's crawl space by yourself. Should you fall, become trapped, or get shocked, you'll need immediate assistance.

If you're working with a chainsaw to cut up a fallen tree, remove hanging limbs, or take apart a damaged shed or other outdoor structure, wear protective gear, follow the manufacturer's instructions for proper use of the chainsaw, and avoid electrical wires. If there are downed electric wires in your yard, contact the local electric company to take care of the problem.

If there's damage to outdoor faucets or there are broken pipes and water spilling into the yard, turn off the main water supply and call a plumber to make the necessary repairs. This also is the step to take if there are broken pipes inside the home.

Cleaning the Interior

Mold on a ceiling.

If there is a lot of damage and debris inside the home, consider hiring a hauling service with staff who will load the items onto their truck or trailer. There's also the option of having a large garbage bin delivered to your home so you can fill it with whatever needs to be thrown away. Once filled, the company retrieves the bin and takes the contents to the local dump. This type of service usually bills by the weight of the contents.

If high winds have caused damage to doors and windows, remove and replace these as soon as possible to secure the safety of the home's contents and to keep unwanted pests and wildlife outside. If necessary, board up openings once you've finished cleaning up.

For water-damaged interiors, it's important to clean up and discard the wet items and dry out the interior as quickly as possible to help prevent mold. To dry out the interior, open all the doors and windows and use fans to help dry the area quickly.

Throw away wet items that cannot be salvaged by drying or cleaning—such as mattresses, rugs, carpeting, stuffed animals, pillows, books, and any items comprised of foam or rubber. Also, remove wet insulation and drywall that has been damaged by water. Floodwater carries germs, so any item that has been exposed needs to be thoroughly cleaned or discarded.

If mold has appeared, use a mixture of equal parts water and bleach to clean any area showing signs of mold. Use the mixture to clean all surfaces such as countertops, sinks, and fixtures. Before beginning the bleach-cleaning process, open doors and windows, avoid closed-in spaces, and wear protective goggles, gloves, and a respirator to protect yourself.

Once you've finished cleaning the interior and/or exterior, take care of yourself with a thorough cleaning with soap and water. Floodwater can also contain bacteria from wastewater and overflowing sewage, which can contaminate drinking water and food items. Bacteria-infected water can also cause problems if you have an open cut. Wear rubber gloves, wash the area with the sore completely with soap, and help eliminate an infection using frequent applications of an antibiotic ointment.

Before starting a project, make a checklist of what areas need to be cleaned, set up your team of helpers, put on safety garments and accessories, take your time, take periodic breaks, stay hydrated, and, above all, be safe.