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Tips For Protecting Property After An Earthquake

Release date: 
March 8, 2001
Release Number: 

Olympia, WA -- Earthquake "aftershocks" for homeowners include the challenge of making sure their homes are secure, and protecting their exposed valuables from the elements. Damage caused by failure to protect such items from the rain or other natural events following an earthquake might preclude them from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recovery assistance.

"FEMA recovery assistance covers basic needs only and will not normally compensate you for your entire loss," said Carl Cook, deputy federal coordinating officer for FEMA's Hazard Mitigation program. "If you have insurance, FEMA may help pay for basic needs not covered under your insurance policy."

Low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) are available to homeowners, renters, and businesses of all sizes to cover private property damage that is not fully compensated by insurance or other sources. Disaster loans from SBA are the primary source of funds for repairing property damaged by the earthquake.

Protective measures include installing plastic tarps, putting fencing around unstable sites, posting warning signs, bracing or removing damaged facilities, and ensuring that ruptured gas and water lines are turned off.

"Tarps on the roof will protect the building's interior from rain, while plywood, tarps or other materials over broken windows can protect the contents from further damage," Cook said. "A tarp or 6mm plastic sheeting makes a temporary repair until a qualified roofing contractor inspects the roof."

Hazardous areas strewn with rubble and fractured walls, chimneys, or damaged overhangs should be fenced off and warnings posted. Overhead building facades, marquees, light fixtures or other items that were damaged and could fall should be removed or braced by qualified building experts.

"If there has been any structural collapse, stay out the building," Cook advised. "Have a qualified engineer or building official perform an inspection before you reenter the premise. Again, if you're unsure about electrical or gas utilities, leave immediately, touch nothing - including the telephone - and contact the utility from another location."

Masonry chimneys are particularly susceptible to damage from earthquakes. Stove, fireplace and furnace flues should be checked and chimneys should be repaired as needed. Beware of falling chimney debris.

If the water line is compromised, shut off the water at the main valve. Then have a qualified plumbing contractor or representative from the sewer or water utility inspect and repair the damage. Spilled materials should be cleaned up and properly disposed; do not pour gas or other flammable liquids in your drain.

To determine the condition of one's home following an earthquake, Cook provided the following

  • Has any portion of the structure - walls, floors, roof, deck, etc. - collapsed?
  • Has the structure shifted or fallen from its foundation? Look beneath the house, check the foundation for crack and loose material.
  • Is the building noticeably leaning? When viewed from a distance, is any portion of the building out of plumb or deformed, such as the walls, roof line, porches or columns?
  • Is there any severe cracking of walls or obvious severe damage and distress?
  • Is the chimney damaged, cracked or in danger of falling? Look for cracks where the chimney connects to the firebox, at the roofline, and in the attic. Check for debris in the firebox.
  • Has the furnace shifted? Is there any damage to ducts or exhaust pipes?
  • Is the roof leaking? Small leaks may be difficult to detect. Watch for water damage to ceiling.
  • Are doors or windows jammed or difficult to open and close?
Last Updated: 
July 8, 2017 - 10:57
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