Washington, D.C. -- Flood waters leave significant structural devastation in their wake, but sometimes the most wrenching losses are the smallest - personal items such as heirlooms, photographs, textiles and books. With proper handling, however, some of these items may be reclaimed from the flood waters.
The Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers these recommendations from the Heritage Emergency National Task Force, a coalition of 34 national organizations and federal agencies, including FEMA.
- Handle wet photos carefully; the surfaces may be
fragile. Wet photos may be rinsed in clean water and sealed in a plastic
garbage bag with a tie or a Zip-Lock type plastic bag. If possible,
put wax paper between each photo. If a freezer is available, freeze
the photos immediately. Later, photos may be defrosted, separated and
- If no freezer or refrigerator is available, rinse
wet photos in clean water and dry them, face up, in a single layer on
a clean surface (a table, window screen or clean plastic laid out on
the ground). Don't dry photos in direct sunlight. Don't worry if the
photos curl as they dry. A photo expert can be contacted later about
- Valuable textiles, such as quilts, laces, needlework
or tapestries, will be weaker and heavier when wet and will require
extra care. Wear plastic disposable gloves, protective clothing, goggles,
and if possible, use a respirator while working on flood-damaged textiles.
Do not attempt to unfold extremely delicate fabrics if the fragile layers
are stuck together. Wait until they are dry and consult a conservator.
- To remove mud and debris, re-wet the textiles with
gently flowing clean water or with a fine hose spray. Gently press water
out with the palm of your hand. Don't wring or twist dry. Remove excess
water with dry towels, blotting paper or blank newsprint, especially
if the dyes are bleeding. Avoid stacking textiles while drying. Reshape
the textile while it is damp to approximate its original contours.
- Don't place textiles in sealed plastic bags. Air
dry indoors with the lights on to inhibit mold and circulate the air
with air conditioning, fans and open windows. Use a dehumidifier in
the room with the wet textiles and drain the collecting container often.
- If heirloom items are broken or begin to fall apart,
place broken pieces, bits of veneer and detached parts in labeled open
containers. Don't attempt to repair objects until completely dry or,
in the case of important materials, until you consult with a professional
- Documents, books and works of art on paper may be
extremely fragile when wet. Free the edges of prints and paper objects
in mats and frames, if possible. These should be allowed to air dry.
Sodden papers should also be air dried or may be kept in a refrigerator
or freezer until they can be treated by a professional conservator.
- Remove wet paintings from the frame but not from
the stretcher. Air dry, face up, away from direct sunlight.
- If the books are underwater...