Hurricanes: Returning to Damaged Areas

Use caution following a disaster

Devastating storms, like hurricanes, can cause tremendous damage to ministry and school buildings. After the storm passes, the goal is to return to your ministry’s mission and help others hurting from the storm. Safety should be your first priority. 

First Steps

If you evacuated for the storm, monitor bulletins from local officials before you return. Do not return to your ministry unless it is deemed safe to do so. Then:

  • Contact your insurance agent, even if your property is inaccessible. He or she can help you begin the claims process. Be prepared to provide contact information and your policy number.

  • File a flood claim immediately if your buildings are insured by the National Flood Insurance Program.

You may be eligible to receive recovery assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the American Red Cross, and other disaster relief organizations.

Gather Supplies

Prepare a box of items you’ll need to safely return to your property. You’ll need:

  • First-aid kit and plenty of drinking water.

  • Safety or rubber boots, work gloves, hard hat, safety goggles, and respiratory protection. Respirators with HEPA cartridges or dust masks with a rating of N-95 or higher should be used. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers detailed information about how to properly use respirators during disaster recovery

  • Rubber gloves for cleaning, alcohol swabs or hand sanitizer gel, trash bags, buckets, a mop, sponges, and rags.

  • A pry bar, shovel, and a flashlight with extra batteries.

  • A camera to document conditions for use in insurance claims.

  • Packing supplies to protect fragile salvaged items during transport.

  • Pen and paper, tape, scissors, and plastic storage bags for writing down serial numbers and saving samples of discarded materials to support insurance claims.

If you were forced to evacuate quickly before supplies could be gathered, check with your local Red Cross chapter for some of these items. Often after devastating storms, they will supply cleaning materials for free. Need help now? Contact the American Red Cross for more disaster relief and recovery services.

Before Cleanup Begins

Structural, electrical, or other hazards could cause injury if your building suffered water damage. Take steps to ensure the safety of yourself, staff, and volunteer workers. Before you start repairs or cleaning:

  • Know when you need a professional. Hire professionals to handle jobs that are beyond the ability of your staff or volunteers.

  • Inspect the outside of the building. Look for downed power lines, cracks in the walls or foundation, missing roof supports, standing water, or other signs that the structure may be unsafe. Report downed power lines to the utility company and stay clear of them. If you find building damage, ask a contractor or building inspector to check it out before allowing anyone to enter.

  • Check for gas leaks. If you smell natural gas, don’t go inside. Call the gas company and close the gas valve if it’s located outside.

  • Enter with caution. As you go inside, watch for sagging ceilings. They may be holding water and more likely to collapse.

  • Watch your step. Mud and water make floors slippery and may hide holes, nails, and other hazards.

  • Be alert for critters. Snakes and other wild animals may have taken shelter in your building. 

  • Avoid using HVAC systems. After electricity has been restored, do not turn on the heating or air conditioning until flooded duct work has been cleaned. Mud from floodwaters could spew contaminated air into the building, creating a health hazard.

  • Document everything. Take extensive photographs of damaged buildings and their contents for insurance purposes before cleanup begins. 

Dry Your Building

If water has entered your building, start by drying out the building. Depending on how much your building is flooded, you may have to take several of these steps:

  • Drain trapped water from a sagging ceiling. Stand away from it and poke a hole near its edge with a pencil or sharp stick. After the dripping stops, poke another hole closer to the center of the sag. Continue this process until all water drains from the sag.

  • Drain the basement. If your basement is filled, do not drain all at once. The pressure from the water in the ground may be enough to collapse the walls. Experts recommend that you drain one-third of the water and let it sit overnight. Continue this process until the basement is fully drained.

  • Air out the building. Open doors, closets, crawl spaces, and vents to circulate air. Place moisture-absorbent materials, such as clay-based cat litter or chemical dehumidifier packs, in smaller areas that lack vents. Use fans to promote air circulation. Industrial carpet fans may be available to rent.

  • Protect against more damage. Place a tarp over any exposed areas to prevent further rain damage.

  • Watch for mold. Monitor areas that were soaked and could become riddled with mold or mildew. Discard moldy wallboard, fiberglass insulation, cellulose insulation, and carpet. Workers with respiratory illnesses should not assist cleaning moldy areas. All workers should use respirators during this process.

Hurricane-proof Your Ministry

Check out the Hurricane Safety website from the American Red Cross for more hurricane preparedness tips. The material addresses homeowners, but much of it can be applied to ministries, as well. offers tips on how to hire a roofing contractor, seal a roof, and other recovery tips.