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If flooding has forced you to leave your home, you will be eager to go back

That’s understandable. But before you rush home, there are some things you need to know. These tips will help you stay safe on the trip home — and keep you safe when you get there.

On this page you will find Returning Home and At Home.

Returning Home

Wait until authorities tell you it is safe to go back

Local officials are the most likely to know about hazards on the routes back to your neighborhood. They also will know the most about the conditions in your neighborhood.

Take a cleanup kit and protective gear

You’ll need supplies for cleaning up your home and protecting yourself while inspecting and cleaning your home. Your supply kit should include:

  • Rubber or plastic gloves
  • Cleaning products
  • Bleach
  • Sponges
  • Scrub brushes
  • Drinking water (in case the water is not safe for human consumption)
  • Odor control products
  • Trash bags
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Adhesive bandages
  • Bottled water for cleaning (in case the water is not safe to use)
  • Antibiotic ointments
  • Work towels
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Cleanup suits
  • Food to eat (in case the food in your home is spoiled)
  • Goggles
  • Rubber boots
  • Sturdy shoes
  • Filtering face masks (in case of mold)

Return cautiously and during daylight hours

Returning during the day will help you see any obstacles and hazards in the road or on sidewalks. Also, you will not have to use any lights when you get to your home. This is important because it might not be safe to use the electricity.

Here are other important safety tips to keep in mind for your return trip:

  • Avoid downed power lines.
  • Avoid wading through standing water. It could contain glass or metal fragments that you cannot see. The water also could be contaminated with bacteria that will make you sick. And it could be electrically charged by downed or underground power lines.

At Home

Check for structural damage before re-entering your home

Flooding can cause serious damage to the structure of your home. This damage might not be immediately obvious. Here’s what to do and look for:

  • Examine the foundation, roof, and chimney for cracks and other damage. Inspect porch roofs and overhangs.
  • Enter the home or apartment building slowly and carefully. If the door sticks at the top as it opens, it could mean the ceiling is ready to cave in. If you force the door open, stand outside to avoid being hit by falling debris.
  • If in doubt about the safety of your home or building, do not enter. Contact a building inspector before you go inside.
  • If you go inside and see that the ceiling is sagging, leave immediately. Also leave immediately and contact a building inspector if there are other signs that the building is in a weakened condition or about to collapse.

Take photos or videos of the damage for insurance purposes. This will help you file accurate claims for your losses.

Keep power off until an electrician has inspected your system and confirmed it’s safe

If you can access the main power switch without standing in water, you should shut off the electrical system immediately. If you can’t, call an electrician to turn it off instead.

Use battery-powered flashlights until your power is restored. Never use an electric tool or appliance while standing in water.

Turn off the gas and be alert for gas leaks

Until you are sure there is no gas leak, act like there is one. Do not use matches, candles, gas lanterns, torches, cellphones, or cordless phones. Do not turn on your flashlight inside the home. If there is a gas leak, any of these actions could trigger an explosion.

Signs of a gas leak include:

  • An odor that smells like rotten eggs or sulfur
  • A whistling, hissing, or roaring sound
  • A dense, white cloud or fog
  • Constant bubbling in standing water
  • Discolored or dead vegetation near the gas pipeline
  • Unexplained frozen ground near the gas pipeline

Here are steps to take if you smell gas or suspect a leak:

  1. If you smell the gas while outside the home, do not enter it.
  2. If you are in the home, open all windows and leave the house or apartment building immediately. Do not use elevators, which could spark the gas and cause an explosion.
  3. Do not turn on the lights or do anything that could cause a spark. Potentially dangerous actions include using cell or cordless phones. They also include turning on appliances or flashlights, lighting candles or cigarettes, ringing doorbells, or operating garage door openers. These restrictions apply to the area just outside the home as well as inside it.
  4. Notify the gas company, police or fire department, or state fire marshal’s office.
  5. If you have not already done so, turn off the main gas valve. You will need a wrench. If you do not have one, ask a neighbor. The valve is usually located outside the home at the gas meter.
  6. Let your neighbors know you might have a gas leak. But avoid using the building’s fire alarm, as this could spark the gas.
  7. Do not return to the home until you are told it is safe to do so.
  8. Do not turn the gas back on yourself.

Coordinate with your utility companies

  • Contact your utility company if you see a downed power line. Move away from the line and from anything touching it. Do not try to move the downed power line or anything in contact with it.
  • Ask your utility company for approval before using power generators or other electrical equipment. If not connected properly, this equipment can become a major fire hazard or endanger workers who are helping restore power in your area.
  • Communicate with your utility companies about restoring service. The information they provide can help you plan other cleanup and repair work.

Be careful about what you eat and drink

  • Throw out food that may be spoiled or contaminated. The general rule is, “When in doubt, throw it out.” Toss out food with an unusual odor, color, or texture. However, food can be unsafe and make you sick even if it looks, smells, and tastes normal. Get rid of any food that may have come in contact with flood or storm water. Also throw out food that has not been refrigerated properly due to power outages.
  • Do not drink tap water until you confirm the water supply is safe to drink. Local authorities and news reports can provide this information. In the meantime, drink bottled water.
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