Hurricane Clean-up Tips from a Survivor

You’re knee deep in the flood recovery process, but take a moment to regroup and read these helpful tips.

13 October 2017

Recently the US has been ravaged by back-to-back hurricanes leaving a trail of destruction almost too large for people to fathom. For those brave and remarkable people affected, I would, as a flood survivor, like to share a few tips that got me through the devastation I experienced. I’m sure you’re already knee deep in the recovery process, but take a moment to regroup.

  1. Dress yourself for safety: Many things can hurt you, if you are not careful. First, get a tetanus shot or booster, as the receding waters contain a lot of bacteria. Trust me, you’ll scrape yourself on many things. To help minimize this risk, I wore thick rubber rain boots and covered my hands and forearms with thick gloves as well. You’ll get dirty, sweaty and covered in nasty “goo.” Each day you’re working, plan to change clothes at least three times during the day. I know this simple act helped my emotional state as well as minimized my exposure to illness. Lastly, bring plenty of face masks to wear. The stench of rotting food and potentially decaying animals mixed with stagnant water is not something you want to taste in your mouth. Chewing gum and breath mints help with that as well.
  2. Make a plan: Take a few minutes to plan what you’ll be tearing down and sorting through. Debris can be like a mess of tangled knots and pulling one piece may bring six others down. I thought in terms of small quadrants, instead of the overwhelming big picture. I would sort out sections and put items in piles such as salvageable, toss and “deal with later.” I also kept plastic tubs for sentimental “finds” I could clean later. Speaking of cleaning, be careful with your chemicals. Bleach is the best, but the fumes can overpower you. Take frequent breaks and NEVER mix it with other chemicals.
  3. It’s OK to be overwhelmed: If you try to do all of this within a set time frame, you’re setting yourself up for failure. I remember initially for every 20 minutes I cleaned, I had at least 2-3 minutes of despair, fear and anger. To keep yourself physically able to work safely, you also need to take care of your mental and emotional states. All three work in tandem with each other. It’s okay to take breaks, to look at old photos you find, to tell someone the story about the broken souvenir you recovered and to laugh and wonder how a car tire ended up in your kitchen! Have conversations with friends, family and strangers so you stay connected. Your ability to survive this is directly connected to your mental health and support network.

As a now twenty-year flood survivor, I look back with a sense of learning and pride. It made me stronger. I don’t get upset when my niece spills nail polish or when the cats break something. Why? Because items can be replaced. Your health and safety are what matter. Cherish your loved ones and others. You WILL recover and thrive.

Todays’ blogger is Christy Barrell, Senior Consultant with Intertek’s Consulting and Training Business Line in North America. Christy has over thirty years’ experience as trainer and facilitator and has worked in a variety of countries with a focus on identifying and addressing human factors that impact safety in high-risk environments. She can be reached at for any questions.