Returning Home and Recovering after a Disaster

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Returning Home

Returning home after a major disaster can be both physically dangerous and mentally difficult. Be careful and make sure local officials have advised it is safe to travel through the areas you need in order to return home.
Be ready to adapt to the conditions at hand as trash, debris and waste may be everywhere. Following is some useful information as a guide for returning home after disaster strikes:

1.  Do not return home until the local authorities say it is safe to do so.

2.  Continue listening to the radio for information and instructions.

3.  Use extreme caution when entering or working in buildings– structures may have been damaged or weakened. Watch for poisonous snakes in flooded structures and debris.

4.  Do not take lanterns, torches or any kind of flame into a damaged building. There may be leaking gas or other flammable materials present. Use battery-operated flashlights for light. If you suspect a gas leak, do not use any kind of light — the light itself could cause an explosion.

5.  If you smell leaking gas, turn off the main gas valve at the meter. If you can open windows safely, do so.

  • Do not turn on lights–they can produce sparks that may ignite the gas.
  • Leave the house immediately and notify the gas company or the fire department.
  • Do not re-enter the house until an authorized person tells you it is safe to do so.

6.  Notify the power company or fire department if you see fallen or damaged electrical wires.

7.  If any of your appliances are wet, turn off the main electrical power switch in your home before you unplug them. Dry out appliances, wall switches and sockets before you plug them in again. Call utility companies for assistance.

8.  Check food and water supplies for contamination and spoilage before using them.

9.  Wear sturdy shoes when walking through broken glass or debris, and use heavy gloves when removing debris.

10.  After the emergency is over, telephone your family and friends to tell them you are safe.

Recovering from a Disaster

Even after you return home, recovery continues, as you and your family experience the emotional and psychological effects of the event. Reactions vary from person to person, but may include:

  • Restless sleep or nightmares
  • Anger or wanting revenge
  • Numbness or lack of emotion
  • Needing to keep active, restlessness
  • Needing to talk about your experiences
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings

These are normal reactions to stressful events and it is important to let people react in their own way. In particular, children may need reassurance and extra attention.

It is best to encourage children to share their feelings, even if you must listen to their stories repeatedly. This is a common way for children to grasp what they have experienced. Children have an active imagination and the words and actions from a parent or adult caregiver can provide reassurance to a child who feels deeply afraid. When talking to your child, be sure to present a realistic picture that is both honest and manageable.

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