Returning Home

Image of a red brick house with damage to its roof

Everyone wants to go home after a disaster, but it may not be safe. Do not return home until police have said the area is safe.

When you do return, carefully check your home before entering. Walk around outside and check for loose power lines, gas leaks and damage to the building. DO NOT ENTER if: you smell gas, floodwaters remain around the building, or your home was damaged and authorities have not declared it safe. If are worried about its safety, have your home inspected by a trained building inspector or structural engineer before entering.

  • As you return home, watch for fallen objects such as downed power lines, weakened walls, bridges, roads and sidewalks.
  • Keep a battery-powered radio with you, so you can listen for emergency updates and news reports.
  • Use a battery-powered flash light to inspect a damaged home.
  • Note: The flashlight should be turned on outside before entering - the battery may produce a spark that could ignite any leaking gas.
  • Watch out for animals, especially poisonous snakes. Use a stick to poke through debris.

Going Inside

Be careful when entering your home after a disaster. Look around carefully and check for damage. Be aware of loose boards and slippery floors. Also, check for:

  • Natural gas. If you smell gas or hear a hissing sound, open a window and leave quickly. Turn off the main gas valve from the outside, if you can. Call the gas company from a neighbor’s house. If you shut off the gas supply, you will need a trained person to turn it back on. NEVER smoke or use oil, gas lanterns, candles or torches until you are sure there is no gas leak.
  • Sparks, broken or frayed wires. If possible, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If the situation is unsafe, leave and call for help. Do not turn on lights until you know they’re safe to use. You may want to have an electrician check your wiring.
  • Roof, foundation and chimney cracks. If it looks like the building may collapse, leave as soon as possible.
  • Damaged appliances. If appliances are wet, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. Then, unplug appliances and let them dry out. Have appliances checked by a skilled person before using them again. Also, have the electrical system checked by an electrician before turning the power back on.
  • Water and sewage systems. If pipes are damaged, turn off the main water valve. Check with local authorities before using any water; the water could be contaminated. Pump out wells and have the water tested by authorities before drinking. Do not flush toilets until you know that sewage lines are intact.
  • Food and other things. Throw out all food and other things that may have been tainted or come in to contact with floodwater.
  • Bad or contaminated items. Cleanse items that may have been dirtied by raw sewage, bacteria or chemicals. Also clean items that can be saved and used.
  • Be sure to call your insurance agent. Take pictures of damages. Keep good records of repair and cleaning costs.

Wildlife Warnings

Disasters can make wild animals uneasy. In storms, animals often seek shelter in different places. Learn what to look for to keep you and your family safe.

  • Do not go near animals that have taken refuge in your home. Wild animals such as snakes, opossums and raccoons often seek refuge from floodwaters in homes and may stay. If you find such an animal, open a window. The animal will likely leave on its own. Do not try to capture the animal. If the animal stays, call the animal control or wildlife resource office.
  • Beware of a growing number of snakes and other animals after a disaster. These animals will try to feed on the carcasses of reptiles, amphibians and small mammals that died in the disaster.
  • Do not try to move a dead animal. Animal bodies can be a serious health risk. Outbreaks of anthrax, encephalitis and other diseases may occur. Contact your local emergency management office or health department for help and instructions.
  • If bitten by an animal, see a doctor as soon as possible.

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