How to salvage items from floodwaters

Do you have items damaged from floodwaters? Here are some tips for how to restore them.

Thousands of Texans are cleaning up after flood damage, and many are overwhelmed by both the financial burden but also the loss of family heirlooms and pictures.

However, there is hope that those precious items can be salvaged.

Steve Pine is an art conservator at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston who also volunteers for an organization called Texas Cultural Emergency Response Alliance. 

“We are finding that it's hard to sit on the sideline when so many of our neighbors are having so much trouble with flooding,” Pine said.

He and other museum professionals help flood victims salvage flooded items.

“They are relieved very often, and it's wonderful to be able to offer that kind of assistance,” he said. 

To salvage photos, books, textiles and VHS tapes, you’ll need spring water, absorbent pads, paper towels and space. 

Pine demonstrated using a damaged, damp book. 

“As I pick it up, I'm supporting the whole book and keeping it closed. As I go to rinse i,t I'm just going to put it under the water holding it together," Pine explained.

He then drains the book and begins a process called interleaving. He places a paper towel between every few pages, then stands it up and fans it open. This interleaving process should be repeated several time with dry paper towels.

The rinsing process is the same for damp photos, prints and textiles. 

Pine says if you can’t get to damaged paper items right away, at least rinse them, cover them in wax paper, place them in a plastic bag and put them in the freezer. 

For VHS tapes where old home videos are often kept, the tape should also be rinsed several times in spring water. For the final rinse, Pine suggests switching to distilled water. Then leave the tape to air dry and run it through a transcribing machine to copy the data. There’s a pretty good chance that data will transfer.

When these items are drying, you’ll want to make sure they’re in a place with moving air, inside with air conditioning and fans preferably, but not blow dryers.

When it comes to saving flooded items, time is important. Once mold sets in, it can be too late. 

For more information about TX-CERA, visit its website.

FEMA has provided additional information about how to deal with flood damage posted below:

After the Flood

  • Personal safety is always the highest priority when entering buildings damaged by floodwater. 
  • Check for structural damage before re-entering your home to avoid being trapped in a building collapse. 
  • Keep power off until an electrician has inspected your system for safety. 
  • Turn off the gas. Be alert for gas leaks. 
  • Look before you step. After a flood, the ground and floors are covered with debris, including broken bottles and nails. Floors and stairs that have been covered with mud can be very slippery. 
  • Take photos of any floodwater in your home and of damaged items for insurance purposes. 
  • Call your insurance agent to file a claim and report the damage as soon as possible. Homeowners insurance usually covers losses caused by wind, storms, or broken water pipes, but not surface flooding. 
  • Rescue the most valuable items, but never attempt to salvage belongings at the expense of your own safety. 
  • Wear long sleeves, sturdy shoes or waterproof boots, and plastic or rubber gloves during cleanup. 
  • Wash your hands often with soap and clean water or use a hand-cleaning gel with alcohol in it. 
  • Mold can form within 48 hours; you will need to work fast. The goal is to reduce the humidity and temperature around your treasures as you proceed to clean and dry them. If you do encounter extensive mold, use protec-tive gear such as gloves, goggles, and an N100 face mask, available at most hardware stores.

Some Simple Cleaning Tips

Air-Dry. Gentle ai -drying is best for all your treasured belongings — indoors, if possible. Hair dryers, irons, ovens, and prolonged exposure to sunlight will do irreversible damage. Increase indoor airflow with fans, open windows, air conditioners and dehumidifiers.

Handle with Care. Use great caution in handling your heirlooms, which can be especially fragile when wet. Separate damp materials: remove the contents from drawers; take photographs out of damp albums; remove paintings and prints from frames; place paper towels between the pages of wet books. 

Clean Gently. Loosen dirt and debris on fragile objects gently with soft brushes and cloths. Avoid rubbing, which can grind in dirt. 

Salvage Photos. Clean photographs by rinsing them carefully in clean water. Air-dry photos on a plastic screen or paper towel, or by hanging them by the corner with plastic clothespins. Don’t let the image come into contact with other surfaces as it dries. 

Prioritize. You may not be able to save everything, so focus on what’s most important to you, whether for historic, monetary or sentimental reasons. 

Can’t Do It All? Damp objects and items that cannot be dealt with immediately should be put in open, unsealed boxes or bags. Photos, papers, books and textiles should be frozen if you can’t get them dry within 48 hours. 

Call in a Pro

If a precious item is badly damaged, a conservator may be able to help. Be sure to collect broken pieces. Set your treasure aside in a well-ventilated room until you find professional help. If a precious item has been exposed to contaminated water, seek a conservator’s advice on salvaging it; your health and safety, and that of your loved ones, is of utmost importance. To locate a peer-reviewed conservator, click on the “Find a Conservator” box on the home page of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC), www.conservation-us.org. Also, you could contact the conservation/preservation department of a major museum, library, or archives for advice or contact the National Heritage Responders (formerly AIC-CERT), the specially trained team of the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation. 

Advice by Phone: A number of organizations offer free telephone advice following an emergency or disaster: 

  • The Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation’s emergency response team, the National Heritage Responders (formerly AIC-CERT) offers a 24/7 emergency hotline: (202)-661-8068 
  • Regional Alliance for Preservation (RAP) is a national network of nonprofit organizations with expertise in the field of conservation and preservation. Individual member organizations offer free emergency advice, many on a 24/7 basis. Click on the link to locate your nearest organization. 

Additional Resources

The “ERS: Emergency Response and Salvage” app outlines critical stages of disaster response and provides practical salvage tips for nine types of objects, from photographs to textiles to furniture. Available free of charge for Apple, Android and BlackBerry devices. 

A 10-minute video, “Water Segment from the Field Guide to Emergency Response”from the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation, demonstrates how to rescue soaked photographs, books, documents, and other valued items. 

© 2017 KHOU-TV


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