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Post Disaster Debris Cleanup: a Top Priority for Recovery

As disaster survivors begin the cleanup process after a flood, hurricane, tornado, or other disaster, impacted individuals and businesses need to know the best way to remove debris from their property.

There is typically no need to wait to clean up storm damage, but do thoroughly document damage with photos or videos for the benefit of your insurance appraiser(s).

Take care when cleaning up. Dangling power lines, toxic flood waters, limbs under tension, and other hazards may remain. If trees and other debris have fallen on your private property, be certain to check with your insurance agent to determine if tree damage is covered by your policy. As you clean up, be sure to keep in mind the following suggestions:

  • Due to the magnitude of most disaster events, residents can move debris from their private property to public rights-of-way for pick up and removal by local governments for a limited time. Just as before the disaster, the removal of debris from private property is generally the responsibility of the property owner.
  • While the following guidelines typically apply, follow guidance from your local officials when placing debris for collection. Separate debris into the following six categories when disposing along the curb:
    1. Electronics, such as televisions, computers, or phones;
    2. Large appliances, such as refrigerators, washers, dryers, stoves, or dishwashers. Be sure to remove, seal, or secure the doors so that they are not accessible and thus a suffocation hazard for young children, pets or other animals;
    3. Hazardous waste, such as oil, batteries, pesticides, paint, or cleaning supplies. Also, if you suspect that building materials contain lead-based paint, keep them moist or place these materials in plastic bags so that the paint dust does not become airborne;
    4. Vegetative debris, such as tree branches, leaves, or plants;
    5. Construction debris, such as drywall, lumber, carpet, bathroom fixtures, or furniture; and
    6. Household garbage, discarded food, clothes, paper, or packaging.
  • Remove all water-damaged materials from your home or business and place curbside for pickup.
  • Place debris away from vehicles, trees, poles, or structures including fire hydrants and utility meters to facilitate mechanized pick up.
  • Debris should not be stockpiled so as to block the roadway.

Natural disasters typically leave behind fallen trees, limbs, and trash from damaged buildings on private and public property. Workers immediately begin picking up and disposing of the many tons of debris dumped on streets, highways, curbsides, and from private yards. Federal and state aid will often help pay for removing debris from public property and from public right-of-ways, but again it is typically the private property owner’s responsibility to clean up their home or business and place the debris curbside. Contact your local officials for specific guidance for your area.

Finally, be careful in everything you do while cleaning up after the storm, it is not uncommon for more injuries to be reported at this stage versus during the disaster itself.