Denise Thornton has one regret about her recovery from the floods that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Like many others, Thornton said, she was too quick to throw away things that she later realized might have been salvageable: family albums, furniture, clothes, books and papers.
“People need to know that they can save a lot of what they are putting on the street,” said Thornton, who founded the Beacon of Hope resource center in Lakeview after her home and those of thousands of others stewed for weeks in floodwater. “Is it solid wood? Artwork? Family photographs? I lost all my pictures.”
Furniture, frames, even pictures can be dried out and, if they are precious keepsakes, restored.
“Put it in a garbage bag and save it til you have time to deal with it,” Thornton advises families in the Baton Rouge area who are coping with the aftermath of devastating floods.
“I just threw away things I couldn't replace. When you are distraught, you just go, ‘Get it out of here!’ “
Here are some tips from survivors who rebuilt after the floods that followed Hurricane Katrina:
• Be patient. Photographs, artwork and furniture can be dried out and, in many cases, restored. Pages of photo albums can be peeled apart to yield pictures you will be glad you saved. Put soaked pictures to the side until you have time to deal with them. You can always throw things away later.
• Photograph open walls before drywall is nailed up to record the locations of electrical outlets, said Thornton. "When contractors are coming in, they are slapping up that Sheetrock after mold remediation and gutting. They are working as fast as they can. I would suggest that people take pictures of the bare walls … because sometimes the contractors will slap Sheetrock over an outlet.” The same goes for air conditioning vents.
• Make sure wall studs are completely dry before nailing up drywall, said Renee Peck, editor of the online magazine NolaVie, who rebuilt her home in New Orleans after Katrina. "You need to get a moisture meter and stick it in the wood,” she said. “A lot of people are in a big hurry, but if the studs are still damp and you close the walls up” the result can be mold inside the walls.
• Save important information by letting paperwork dry and then photocopying it, Thornton said.
• Make sure contractors are licensed by checking the state of Louisiana website, www.lslbc.louisiana.gov/contractor-search. “I knew so many people, very smart people, who got ripped off by contractors who came in and took a down payment and then disappeared,” Peck said. Ask for proof of insurance and make sure it’s current by calling the insurance company yourself.
• Don’t be afraid to accept help. The financial picture can change, and people who assume they can pay for work might find themselves short of money as their recovery drags on, said the Rev. Duane Wiggin-Nettles, who oversaw volunteer rebuilding work for the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation and whose own home flooded. “And remember that … even if financially you don’t feel you need it, when folks show up, they are providing moral support and emotional support to you," the pastor said.
• Take care of yourself. “It’s such an overwhelming task; you can isolate yourself,” Wiggin-Nettles said. “You have to be careful not to work 24/7. Share a glass of wine or beer with someone. Go to the neighbors’ barbecue.”
• Organize your neighborhood. “There are going to be a lot of people out there who are going to want to help you financially,” said David Winkler-Schmit, who renovated his flooded home and worked with the Broadmoor Improvement Association after Katrina. “If you have a good plan, when somebody says they have money, you can say, 'We have a plan.'" With grants and insurance money, New Orleans' Broadmoor neighborhood was able to direct rebuilding of homes, a library, community center and school — better than before. “Take the disaster and turn it into an opportunity,” Winkler-Schmit said.