Coping with Emotions

You may be surprised at how you and others feel after a disaster. It can stir up a variety of unanticipated feelings, and they are as important to address as bodily injuries, damaged homes, and possessions. Almost everyone is apt to be upset. People may fear that the worst isn’t yet over. They may worry about their safety or that of a loved one. They may feel shock, disbelief, grief, anger, or guilt. Memory lapses, anxiety, and depression are also possible. Children, senior citizens, people with disabilities, and people for whom English is not their first language are especially at risk and may need extra attention. It is important to calmly let them know that they are safe and that you will help. Reassurance from a competent adult can help people recover more quickly and completely.

Some basic steps you can take to meet emotional needs:

  • Try to return to as many of your normal routines as possible.
  • Get rest and drink plenty of water.
  • Limit your exposure to the sights and sounds of disaster, especially on television, the radio, and in the newspapers.
  • Focus on the positive.
  • Recognize your own feelings.
  • Reach out and accept help from others.
  • Do something you enjoy, like familiar get-togethers.
  • Stay connected with your family or other supporters.
  • Realize that recovery can take time.

If you have more questions or observe behavior in your dependents that concerns you, contact a counselor or community professional for additional information and help. See Emergency Support Contacts.

Checking Your Residence

Check with local authorities to make sure your residence is safe to enter. For example, if you live in Virginia Tech housing, check university news to find out when it is safe to return. Do not cut or walk past colored tape or a color-coded sign until you get more advice and instructions about what these signs mean and whether it is safe to enter. If you have children, leave them with a relative or friend while you conduct your first inspection of your damaged home. The site may be unsafe for children, and seeing the damage firsthand may upset them unnecessarily.

Helping Pets

If you have pets, try to find and comfort them. Handle animals carefully and calmly.

Pets can become upset and react to a disaster in unusual ways, such as spraying urine, defecating on floors, or scratching/biting furnishings. Since pets will need regular care and attention to help them calm down, try to leave pets with a family member, friend, veterinarian, or boarding facility while you are dealing with other challenges. Animals are naturally inquisitive and could be injured if they are brought back to a damaged home.

  • Use toys, a blanket, or favorite human's unsoiled clothing to comfort pets.
  • Make sure pets are fed their usual diet and have plenty of water.
  • Visit your pets regularly, speak calmly, and take some time out to play with them. Caring for pets can help you in your recovery, as well.

Checking for Structural Damage

Beware of animals such as rodents, snakes, spiders and insects that may have entered. As you inspect your home, tap loudly and often on the floor with a stick to give notice that you are there. Animals (including snakes) do not want encounters with humans, and will move away if you make your presence known.

Check the exterior before you enter. Look for loose power lines, broken or damaged gas lines, foundation cracks, holes in the roof, or other damage. If you can see damage on the outside, the inside may be very unsafe. Await professional inspection and clearance before entering. If there is no significant visible outside damage, then check inside. Carefully open the door. If it is stuck, do not force it open. It may be preventing a collapse. Find another way to enter your home. Do not enter a damaged home without protective clothing. The last thing that you want to do is add injuries during clean-up to the list of things that require attention. Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, closed-toed rubber-soled shoes or boots, and work gloves. Dust masks, safety glasses or goggles, a hard hat, and other safety equipment may be required.

Smell or sniff for gas. If you detect the odor of natural or propane gas, or hear a hissing noise, leave the property immediately and get well away from it. Call the fire department. If the fire department instructs you to do so, turn off the gas with the proper tool at the valve on the outside meter. (When natural gas is turned off at the main valve, it must be turned back on by a professional to ensure that the proper sequence is followed to restore gas service and to prevent possible gas leaks, fires or an explosion.) If you have a propane tank system, turn off all valves and contact a propane supplier to check the system before you use it again. If power is out, use a flashlight to inspect for damage. Do not use any open flame, including candles, to inspect for damage or serve as alternate lighting.

Throughout your first day back, and beyond, check for damage throughout the home, including the attic. Objects, such as furnishings or building parts that have been damaged, may be unstable. Be very cautious when moving near them. Avoid holding, pushing or leaning against damaged building parts. Make temporary repairs such as covering holes, bracing walls, and removing debris. Take photographs of the damage, and save receipts. You may need these to substantiate insurance claims later. If there may be water damage (e.g., from rain, snow melt, or fire hoses):

  • Check the ceiling for signs of sagging. Wet plaster or wallboard is very heavy and dangerous if it falls. Since damaged plaster or wallboard will have to be replaced anyway, you can try to knock it down but do so carefully.
  • Wear protective clothing, including eye protection and a hard hat. Use a long stick, and stand well away from the damaged area.
  • If the ceiling may be sagging from the weight of water, poke holes in it starting from the outside of the bulge to let water drain out slowly.
  • Take your time, and knock away small chunks at a time. Striking the center of the damaged area first may cause the ceiling to collapse.
  • Check the floor for signs of sagging. Floors damaged by water could collapse under human weight; so don’t walk on sagging floors. If only small sections sag, place thick plywood panels or thick, strong boards on the floor to cover the damaged area. Be sure the wood extends at least 8-12 inches on each side of the sagging area.
  • Disconnect and check all appliances for water damage before using them.
  • If the weather is dry, open windows and doors to ventilate the interior.