Still Hope For Wet Documents, Photos, Computer Disks or Tapes

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Release date: 
August 8, 2002
Release Number: 
1425-62

San Antonio, TX -- Your invaluable business papers, journals, photographs, documents and computer disks can sometimes be saved even after prolonged submersion in murky waters such as the Texas floods of 2002.
The Division of Emergency Management, Texas Department of Public Safety (DEM) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offer recommendations from the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) and the Texas State Library and Archives Commission for recovery of water-damaged belongings.

"Water-soaked papers and records should be isolated from other materials as soon as possible, because they will affect unsoiled goods," said State Coordinating Officer Duke Mazurek. "Documents, books and photographs may be extremely fragile when wet and care should be taken when handling them," he cautioned.

Valuable papers such as books, photographs, and stamp collections can be restored, but it may take a great deal of effort. They can be rinsed and frozen, in a frost?free freezer or commercial meat locker, until you have time to work on them. "Mold and mildew are the enemy, so time is of the essence," said Steve Drake, government information analyst for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. "The best culture for mold and mildew is high humidity and high temperatures. It's most important to lower the humidity and temperature as quickly as possible." Drake recommends renting a refrigerated truck from a truck leasing agency if the volume and importance of documents to be preserved dictates and individual resouces allow it.

A slightly less effective alternative to freezing is to place paper in a sealed container, such as a plastic bag, with moth crystals.

Dry papers quickly once you begin to thaw or unseal them. A blow dryer works well. Don't try to force paper products apart--just keep drying them. You may want to photocopy valuable papers and records soon because substances in the floodwater may make them deteriorate.

Photographs and negatives that have gotten wet and stuck together should never be pulled apart. Soak them in clean water until they separate on their own. Rinse them in more clean water. Do not touch the wet surface. Allow them to dry on a clean, smooth surface, or handle them gently, and hang them on indoor lines with paper clips or clothespins.

Freezing can be trickier for older photos and shouldn't be tried with those more than 50 years old. Electronic restoration is the most promising option for these. Newer photos that have stuck together in piles also can be temporarily stored in a bucket of cold, clean water to minimize damage until you have time to work with them. Photos, paper and books that are still wet have not yet been attacked by mildew. Mildew doesn't grow on wet material; it grows on damp material.

If a computer disk or tape has valuable information, rinse it in clear water and put it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Later, you can take it to a professional drying center and have the data transferred to a good disk or tape. Many companies that specialize in restoring computers and computer records after a disaster are members of the Disaster Recovery Institute. To find a member company near you, call toll-free, 888-374-7845.

Books. If a book is obviously wet and still ...

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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