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photo of portable generator and gas cans

After the storm, recovery begins

Article and audio introduction by Samantha Kennedy, Family and Consumer Sciences
hurricane recovery tips

Downed trees and other debris should be handled with care. Take proper precautions when using chainsaws and other power tools for debris collection and removal. (Photo credit: Samantha Kennedy)

A Storm of Historic Proportions

Hurricane Michael was a storm of historic proportions, slamming into the Florida Panhandle and wreaking havoc on millions of people across the Big Bend region. Now that the storm has passed, the hurricane recovery phase has begun. Damage assessment, debris removal, structural repairs, and food safety concerns are just a few aspects of storm recovery, as people seek to rebuild their lives and return to a sense of normalcy.

There are a lot of things to think about after a disaster and it can be overwhelming. The first priority should always be basic necessities: food, water, and shelter. Make sure any structure is safe enough for habitation.  If the structure’s integrity is compromised, seek alternate living arrangements.

Things to Keep in Mind for Hurricane Recovery

Heed all boil water notices, if applicable. If boiling water is not possible, stick to using clean, bottled water for drinking, food preparation, and personal hygiene. Do not assume that because the food in the refrigerator is cool to the touch, that it is safe to eat.  Perishable food must be kept at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to be considered safe. If it is uncertain as to whether that temperature was maintained while the power was out, the food should be discarded. Definitely discard any perishable food after a power outage longer than 4 hours.

Be careful when assessing damage after the storm. Wear sturdy shoes and avoid wading through floodwaters. Wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen when out in the sun. Drink plenty of clean water and maintain energy levels with small, nutrient-dense meals and snacks. Damaged tree limbs may continue to fall after the storm, so take heed of potential falling debris. Standing water can harbor snakes, fire ants, and other potentially dangerous critters, so take proper precautions at or around puddles or floodwater.

Use tools such as chainsaws and generators correctly and practice proper safety precautions.  Do not run a generator inside and store gas cans a safe distance from both the generator and the living space. Allow others more skilled with using a chainsaw to help with debris collection and removal. If dealing with large amounts of mold, be sure to wear protective clothing and the proper respiratory mask to avoid contact with spores.

Unfortunately, many dishonest people take advantage of situations such as natural disasters to prey on those in need. Beware of people offering to help with repairs quickly and/or for an extraordinarily low price. Only hire reputable licensed contractors, even if that means having to wait for services. The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation maintains a list of licensed contractors in the state of Florida. The Better Business Bureau provides ratings for a variety of businesses, including contractors. Use these resources as a guide to finding the right contractor.

Contact insurance companies as soon as possible after the storm to get the claims process rolling. Have the policy on hand when the call is made to make the process easier. It would be helpful to document any damage and have those photos available to share with the insurance agent or claims adjuster.  Post-disaster is an extremely busy time for insurance companies, so be as cooperative and patient as possible during the process.

Disaster recovery is a very stressful time for everyone, often leading to confusion, anger, and helplessness. Reach out to existing support systems such as family, friends, churches, or other groups for emotional support. Practice self-care, such as regular meals and breaks. Establish a new normal routine and stick to it, especially for children. Most importantly, be kind to yourself and others during this difficult time.

Extension Can Help

The University of Florida IFAS Extension Service is a local resource for post-disaster education and assistance. More information about each of these topics and more can be provided by the local extension office.

While some of the county extension offices were affected by the storm, many are open and available to help citizens in all counties by providing guidance and expertise in a variety of areas, as well as connecting citizens with other recovery resources around the state. The Leon County Extension office can be reached at (850) 606-5200. The Wakulla County Extension office can be reached at (850) 926-3931.

For more information about disaster recovery, please check out the UF/IFAS Disaster Preparation & Recovery blog.

Extension programs are open to everyone regardless of race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations.

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