Hurricane Recovery

You’ve been through the major stages of the Hurricane:

  1. Prepare
  2. Survive
  3. ?

Now it’s time for the last part. Recovery. This is going to be different for everyone. In some places, you’ll just have a contractor working on your roof. Maybe you’re coming home to nothing but a cement pad. If you’re lucky, you just need to fix up what you have.

 

Major Repairs

The first step in the process is assessing the damage of what’s there. You’ll likely need a housing inspector to walk through your house and find anything damaged or compromised. There could be structural damage. Many of you will need significant roof repair. For flood damage, you’ll need to work on treating mold, replacing electrical wires, and replacing everything that came into contact with the water. If any part of your HVAC system was submerged, it’s probably toast.

We’re going to focus on the parts of the repair process that we know best: HVAC, Plumbing, and Electrical.

As we said above, there’s a good chance your HVAC System is pretty much gone. Ground mounted condenser assemblies may have been exposed to flooding. You’ll need to have them inspected for damage inside. Some designs are highly resistant to rain, but flooding will cause electrical shorts that leads to equipment failure. The water itself and any possible contaminants it picked up such as salt can corrode fittings and motors. Your compressor might actually survive, it’s mostly a seal unit, but that’s not going to do much good if the rest of the system is totaled. Your drain/condensate pan will almost certainly need a cleaning, even if there was just some minor flooding.

Inside the building, your air ducts may be at risk of developing mold. If there has been water getting into the building, then it can collect anywhere and produce mold spores, which will happily take root inside your air ducts. This isn’t too bad, the mold will need to be cleaned, but it’s possible the ducting can still be used. Your evaporator setup however, that may be in more serious danger. If the air handler/evaporator was exposed to the same water as the condenser, there’s the risk of corrosion and electrical shorts.

Your furnace is also at risk. Here in PA, my furnace is located in our basement, where a major flood would destroy it completely. We’re not prone to flooding, but it is on a raised pedestal for extra precaution. If your furnace was flooded, the burners will very likely be clogged or destroyed. The control boards may have shorted. And there could be water in your fuel source. We’re cautiously optimistic that some furnaces could survive minor water exposure, industrial boilers for example, tend to be massive steel tanks. Their burner assemblies might fail, but at least the enormous furnace-body would stand a chance of survival for its shear size. My furnace here is basically a cast iron shell with a burner in the bottom, it might be salvageable from a flood as well.

Your electrical equipment however, is going to be in serious trouble. There will be electrical shorts in equipment exposed to water. Any electrical outlet that’s been submerged, GFCI or not, is probably no longer usable. The flooding could cause extensive corrosion in your wiring, depending on how long the flooding lasts. Power surges caused during the storm may have damaged your electrical meter or circuit breaker box, which will need to be inspected to prevent risk of accidental fires or shock. Appliances inside the building may or may not have survived any such surges. Probably no appliance will have survived submersion.

There is a ray of hope though, for your phones and computers. The parts of your equipment that hold data, the SSD (Solid State Drive) and HDD (Hard Disk Drives) may not function after water exposure, but data recovery specialists can often recover the information on them with specialized tools. It’ll cost a few hundred dollars, if not thousands, but anything you didn’t have backed up, does have a chance at being saved. For a large business, this is a game-changing thing.

Luckily, your plumbing will actually have probably survived in pretty good shape. There’s the possibility for corrosion, but pipes carry water all the time. Your fixtures may need some extreme cleaning after the water recedes and some valves may need replacing, but things are pretty optimistic on this front.

If your basement’s flooded, you’ll be able to start to fix that with a utility pump or a sump pump. These are submersible pumps, many with floats attached, that you can place under water to clear water down to the floor. They’re a common feature in many basements to fight flooding as it occurs from large amounts of rainfall, though localized flooding from rivers and hurricane-level rainfall will usually overwhelm them.

 

Why So Much Damage?

The biggest issue in the aftermath is the flooding. Many houses will tolerate the wind pretty well and a roof is pretty straight forward to replace. In the short-term, tarps will even provide adequate protection until roofers can get to the roof itself. The water however, that poses a whole new type of challenge.

Water is an essential element in life, it can be highly reactive, it can carry other chemicals on its surface or dissolved in it, and it gets everywhere. It can spawn the growth of mold and bacteria just being present. It can conduct electrons and electrical charges, leading to rust and corrosion. Wood and other building materials will readily absorb water and deform from it before decaying.

The fact that the water will linger for days or weeks after the hurricane is what gives it such destructive power. Wind lasts days. Water lasts for far longer. Between the time of exposure, the contaminants, and water’s own uniquely destructive properties, and all the contaminants it can carry into sensitive equipment, and things start to look pretty bleak. Making matters worse, is the level of precision in modern manufacturing. The chips in your computer can be built up of smaller, 8nm parts. The building blocks of your computer’s processor, are actually smaller than the wave lengths of light we see. Pumps and compressors can have parts fitted down to the tens of thousandths of an inch to ensure proper function. Car engines especially, are built with this insane level of precision. It ensures we can get the most out of our machines, but it means anything that can cause a layer of rust or corrosion, will ruin them.

 

What To Expect

If your home or business survived the storm, but flooded, you may have to move out for weeks while the interior is repaired. It’s almost as bad as rebuilding the house, but significant parts of it can be re-used. If your home or business is gone, you’ll need to either buy a new building or rebuild what you had. If there’s structural damage from the wind, you’re in for a long wait and the possible demolition of your building if it cannot be safely repaired.

There could be a long road ahead, but things will get better in time. Storms of this size are fairly rare up north, but now that one’s hit, reconstruction efforts will likely include mitigations against a future occurrence. Homes can be built on higher ground, built with better drainage, or even built raised above the ground to begin with to reduce or mitigate damage. Flood walls can be built to direct the flow of water away from the building. A few companies even produce temporary walls designed to seal a building off from flood waters.

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