Cleaning Up After An Earthquake

This article will lead you through the aftermath of an earthquake and set you up for a more successful recovery.

Earthquakes come in a variety of magnitudes and total shake-time. Aftershocks are common and serious enough for you to pay attention during clean up.

Your first step in cleanup after an earthquake is to smell the air for the odor of gas. If the smell of gas is coming from your home, you must turn off the gas at the main. If you do not smell gas coming from your home, leave your gas main alone. You will not to disrupt heating or cooking with gas, unnecessarily.

If you do smell gas, but it is coming from someone else's home, you may want to assist your neighbors in turning off any gas leaks they have. This keeps your neighborhood safe from explosions.

Look at your water meter. If it is showing water usage, you may have a leak. If the leak is inaccessible, fill up as many containers as possible with water, and then shut off the main. Contamination of tap water can happen as quickly as 15 minutes after a major Earthquake. If you are able to fill several buckets of water, you will be able to use this later for cleaning, cooking, and bathing.

Assuming that you already have adequate shoes on your feet, determine if it is safe to enter your home. Obvious signs of non-safety are if the roof is collapsing, the foundation is groaning, or structural walls are damaged. As you enter your home, the things you will need to obtain are your homeowner's insurance policy, a camera, an operational flashlight, and your cell phone. If the Earthquake was large, household damage is obvious, and you are expecting aftershocks, you may want to grab a few keepsakes, photo albums, personal phone book, and whatever items you may regret not saving.

I suggest keeping general disaster-preparedness supplies close to an outside door or in an adjacent shed. If you prepare ahead of time this kit should contain basic first aid kit, batteries, working flashlight, a couple of disposable cameras, a copy of your homeowner's policy, several hefty-bags, some canned food, can opener, bottled water, heavy-duty gloves, and a list of things you would want to save. This list avoids the panic of grabbing any old piece of furniture and wondering later, why didn't you grab great-grandma's quilt. The hefty-bags aren't only helpful in sanitation and cleanup, but provide you with a bag you can carry with your list into your damaged house and systematically grab the things you want to save. Aftershocks can cause further damage and you must respect the risk of entering your home. There is usually a rhythm to aftershocks. This may allow you to enter your home for 5-10 minutes at a time. Having a prepared disaster kit before a disaster occurs, will assist you in not having to waste time looking for policies, cameras, and other basic disaster supplies.

With your camera, walk around the outside of your home and take pictures of all visible and suspect damage. Walk around all decks, tool sheds, barns, and any other additions on your property record with photos, any damage.

If or when it is safe to enter your home, take pictures of inside condition before you start cleanup. If your dishes are all over the floor or your china hutch was thrown across the room upside down, or the computer is underneath the flattened grand piano, snap pictures of all this damage. Pay close attention to items damaged because of fallen objects.

If your house appears to be unlivable, call a motel and book reservations. When a large Earthquake hits and many people are without safe housing, motels book quickly. Then call your Insurance Agent. It may take several hours, even days for your agent to connect with you. Look at your policy. Does it cover emergency housing during any disaster? If so, your motel room will be covered by your policy. Read your policy to see if you are covered for Earthquake. If your homeowner's policy does not include earthquake, read to see if it covers damage from falling objects. This is where your pictures of household items squashed when ceiling caved in, will come in very handy when you deal with your insurance company.

If you will be spending the night away from your damaged home, secure the entries as best as possible. If you have broken windows, cover them with material that will prevent others from entering. If your doors are not able to lock, block them from the inside with a piece of heavy furniture or a tilted chair.

Now, get on those heavy-duty gloves and let the sweeping begin!

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