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If a Windstorm Has Forced You To Leave Your Home, You’ll Likely Be Eager To Return

Windstorms, such as derechos and tornadoes, can cause extensive damage to homes and communities. Once the storm has passed and it’s safe to return, knowing what to do is crucial for a smooth recovery process. Follow these tips to make sure you inspect your home thoroughly and protect yourself from any lingering hazards before settling back in.

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Prioritize Safety

Wait for Official Clearance

Before attempting to return home, it’s crucial to wait for clearance from local authorities. Emergency officials will evaluate the area, restore essential utilities, and declare it safe for residents to return. Do not try to return prematurely, especially while roads are still closed or before debris is cleared, as this can jeopardize your safety.

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. Ensure all receipts are kept just in case you need them for insurance claims. 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 or hazards on the road or 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 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 have 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.

Check for Structural Damage

Take photos and video for insurance claims. Conduct a thorough visual inspection of the exterior of your home before going inside. Look for any signs of damage like cracks or shifting in the foundation, leaning walls, missing roof shingles, or debris piled up along the side. Check the interior of the garage and any porches or patios for damage as well. If you have any concerns about the structural integrity, do not enter the home until a building inspector considers it safe.

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

Shut Off Utilities

If you suspect any issues with gas, water, or electrical systems, shut them off at the main valves and breakers. Take photos and video for insurance claims. Gas leaks can cause deadly explosions, so if you smell gas or see evidence of leaks, leave immediately and contact the gas company. They will need to inspect the pipes and confirm it is safe to turn the gas back on. With electricity, be extremely cautious of downed power lines which could still be live. Only turn systems back on once professionals have assessed them.

Wear Protective Gear

The interior of your home could have broken glass, scattered debris, detached nails and screws, and other hazards after an emergency. Protect yourself by wearing sturdy boots and gloves to avoid injury to your hands and feet. Wearing a particle mask can prevent irritation or breathing issues from dust and airborne debris as well. Have these supplies ready in your evacuation kit before returning home.

Recovery Assistance

Financial Assistance

Reach out to local agencies and disaster relief organizations for information on financial assistance programs available to you.

Update Important Documents

If vital documents like your ID, passport, insurance policies or health records were lost or destroyed, begin the process to replace them. This will help you access essential services and funds needed to recover.

Follow Public Health Guidance

Local health authorities may provide guidance on boiling water, avoiding certain foods, gutting moldy walls, or taking other precautions after floods and storms. Follow their recommendations closely to prevent illness. Check local authority and water department websites for information.

Get Adequate Rest and Support

Returning and rebuilding after a disaster can take an emotional and physical toll. Make sure to get enough rest and seek mental health services if needed, like counseling, to help cope with trauma and stress. With patience and support, recovery is possible.

Additional Safety Precautions

Watch for Displaced Wildlife

Be cautious when re-entering your home or outdoors areas nearby. Look around corners, under debris, and on walls or ceilings for any snakes, rodents, spiders, or other wildlife that may have entered the home or been displaced into the area. Do not reach into spaces you can’t see clearly. Contact animal control if needed for removal.

Check Food Safety

Inspect refrigerated and frozen foods for spoilage if power was out for over 4 hours. Throw away any perishable foods like meat, dairy, eggs, or leftovers that may have become unsafe. If in doubt, toss it out. Check with local health department for guidance on food and water testing after floods.

Change Locks if Compromised

If your home was left unattended for an extended period or keys were lost during evacuation, consider changing the locks as a precaution. This can help ensure no one unauthorized is able to access the home in your absence. Take photos and video for insurance. Keep receipts in case you need to make an insurance claim.

Clear Road Debris

Use caution when removing fallen trees, broken glass, rubble or other debris from roadways, sidewalks, and driveways. Wear protective equipment and look out for downed power lines that may still be live. Proper debris clearance is important for safe local travel.

Document Damage


Once inside your home, thoroughly document any damage or property losses with photographs and video. Focus on areas like the roof, ceilings, floors, walls, and foundations that may show water damage, cracks, or other structural issues. Electrical, HVAC, and plumbing systems should also be inspected for damage. Capture any exterior damage as well. This documentation is incredibly helpful for insurance claims and applications for FEMA disaster assistance.

Contact Insurance Company

Notify your insurance company as soon as possible after the disaster occurs. Provide them with details, photos/video, and descriptions of all damage sustained. Maintain clear communication with your agent throughout the claims process. If the damage exceeds your coverage limits, you may be eligible for additional assistance through FEMA. However, filing an insurance claim is an important first step.

Returning home after an emergency can stir up many emotions. But by following safety precautions and documenting damage, you can begin the recovery process as smoothly as possible. Listen to guidance from local officials, inspect your home thoroughly, and don’t hesitate to seek assistance if needed.

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