As building professionals, we’ve seen the damage hurricanes can do to South Carolina homes.
The nightmare scenario happened with Hurricane Hugo in 1987. After making landfall in Charleston County, the city experienced 108 MPH winds and an eight-foot storm surge. The storm’s path then cut directly through the state, hitting Colombia as a Category 2 storm and clipping Greenville as it turned north. It’s been called the single greatest natural disaster in South Carolina.
The storm left widespread destruction with damages totaling $5.9 billion for the state.
For many homeowners, the real work begins after the hurricane has passed. Depending on how hard your property has been hit, full recovery can take as long as 14 months, with peak repairs occurring three months after a storm.
Even if you prepared your home for hurricane season, the steps you take immediately after returning home can determine the severity of the damage and how fast you’re able to recover. This checklist explains how to protect your home immediately after a natural disaster.
Remember: Don’t go home until it’s safe. Follow designated roadways. Don’t enter a building if it could collapse. Document property damage for insurance companies.
1. Check Utilities
Your utility systems are some of the most dangerous property features. Problems can cause risks to human life and lasting damage to your home. This makes it a top priority to check utilities before doing anything else.
Typically, a property will be inspected by authorities before you’re allowed back in, but it’s always best to be extra cautious during hurricane recovery.
- Gas: The flammability of gas means even the smallest spark can cause a big disaster. Keep a battery-powered flashlight in your supply kit to use while inspecting the property, and turn the flashlight on before entering your home so that any sparks don’t ignite if there is a gas leak. If you suspect a gas leak, you shouldn’t attempt to locate or troubleshoot it yourself. Call your utility company immediately.
- Electricity: Don’t enter a flooded building unless the power is turned off and a professional has disconnected the electrical meter from its socket. Water is a conductor of electricity, and during a flood, the only way to ensure there’s no current coming into your house is to completely disconnect the system. And as always, use generators safely to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning or electrocution.
2. Address Any Water in Your House
Water is a top concern after a hurricane. A flood can cause lasting damage to your home. You could have to replace the flooring, drywall, and furniture, along with repairing structural problems or foundation damage.
Plus, mold can start to grow on a damp surface within 24 to 48 hours, which could add the difficult task of mold remediation and air quality improvement.
Speed is important when managing flood damage, and there are the main tasks to do when you return home after a hurricane.
- Assess the Problem: Carefully walk through your property to identify where you had any flooding and what state each room is in. Watch out for slippery floors and loose boards.
- Stop the Flow: Even after the weather event has passed, water could still be entering your home, increasing the damage. If water is leaking from your pipes, turn off the main line. If water is coming into your basement from outdoor puddling, create a drainage solution that diverts the water to a storm drain.
- Resolve the Issue: For standing water, the goal is to remove water as quickly as possible to prevent mold growth. It may take some time to thoroughly dry out the building, but your sump pump can do most of the work for you.
If your home had significant basement flooding, you may need to remove water gradually to preserve the integrity of your foundation. FEMA recommends removing about one-third of the water each day so you maintain equal pressure between the inside of your basement and the saturated ground surrounding it.
If your basement is flooded, schedule a free inspection with certified professionals and get a full diagnosis.
3. Inspect Your Structure
Your home was likely inspected for safety before you were allowed to enter it. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t find structural issues. Even if they don’t pose an imminent threat, identifying problems can help you protect your home and preserve your investment.
High winds can be especially damaging to a property’s structural integrity. Consider the scenario where strong directional winds shifted the structural load of the building. You may only notice a jammed door and a crack in the ceiling, but those symptoms could indicate the structure needs to be reinforced or that you have underlying foundation issues.
- Weakened walls
- Roof damage
- Foundation damage
- Chimney cracks
- Sagging floors
- Cracks in walls
- Plumbing pipes that have been displaced
- Windows and doors that have shifted alignment
If your home is on well water, you may need to get the well pumped and tested. And don’t use the faucets or toilets until the authorities say the water and sewage lines are intact.
4. Prepare for Gross Stuff
A major storm can cause significant disruption, and it’s important to be careful and prepared when you’re returning home after a hurricane hits.
Assume that all floodwaters are contaminated with bacteria, pathogens, or chemicals. You may also find that during the storm, sewage backed up through your plumbing system into your home.
You may also encounter creepy crawlies or wildlife. Be sure to poke at piles of debris first so you don’t get an unpleasant surprise during cleanup. Along the South Carolina coast, alligators displaced by floodwaters could be a concern. During Hurricane Dorian, one gator was seen walking down a street in Hilton Head.
Take precautions during cleanup and inspection. If sewage is involved, wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, and goggles. Disinfect anything that’s had contact with floodwaters. Thoroughly wash hands and any skin that’s touched floodwaters to stop bacterial spread. Find out how Mount Valley Foundation Services can help you protect your property against hurricane damage with a free inspection and repair estimate from our basement and foundation experts.