Hurricane Harvey was deemed the second most powerful hurricane in the history of the United States after hurricane Katrina. It made landfall on August 25th 2017 just south of Houston and moved North to the city of 2.3 million people, where it stalled for 5 days, unleashing an unprecedented series of disastrous events. Two feet of rain fell in the first 24 hours. One third of Houston was underwater, and as of September 9, 70 people have lost their lives.
Tens of thousands were left homeless or stranded in their cars and properties. Hurricane Harvey’s catastrophic bill on the city of Houston climbed to the hundreds of billions of US Dollars, within days. And then, the reservoirs busted.
Because Every Picture Tells a Story
Entire neighborhoods swam in dangerous flood water for days which caused residents to lose their homes, furnitures and memories.
One particular thing no insurance can do is recover your old photographs. It was a chilling sight to drive through the war-zone like Canyon Gate neighborhood in Cinco Ranch, TX. Entire streets were covered with endless piles of unsalvageable belongings. It was like a scene from a movie. Except, it was real, and there was no one to call Cut.
Besides the homes, furnitures and things that one can purchase again, thousands of people in Houston lost their old wedding albums, childhood photos and VHS tapes. I sincerely hope you read this in time, to try and recover your old photographs and your precious memories.
3 Ways to Recover Your Old Photographs After a Flood
After the water receded, people began to return to their homes and started the painful process of cleaning up.
The following tips were provided by The Federal Emergency Management Agency, along with the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.
You should first focus your attention on the damaged photos for which you do not have any negatives. If they got stuck together or became molded saving them might not be an option.
1- Washing Photos: All wet photos must be carefully handled. Hold the photo by the edges since wet surfaces are fragile. You can wash these photos in clean water if necessary. Lay them on a flat surface and let air dry. Avoid direct sunlight as they will warp. Dried photos this way may curl but you can always flatten them later.
2- Freezing Photos: If you have power and your freezer is in safe working condition, freeze the photos right after rinsing them. Put several photos in a zip-lock bag and place in the freezer. Later on you can separate the photos and let air dry.
3- Drying Photos: Allow enough air circulation in the area where you placed your photos to air dry. Install de-humidifiers in each room, if affordable. Turn on the fans and put your AC on a cold temperature. Proper air circulation is the best solution to preserve your precious memories.
For those pictures that do have negatives which were not damaged by flood water, remember that you can always print them later.
Houston will rise from the ashes, and the people that make up its multicultural facet will stand back up. With every experience we learn and move on. Hurricane Harvey left its mark on the lives of millions of people, no doubt, but even in the darkest alleys there’s a glimpse of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel.
Thanks to light years of technological advancements since vintage photography, the new generation will build on the mistakes of the past. You now possess an arsenal of mediums that can recover your old photographs for years to come, and avoid having you relive this pain in the future.
How to Keep Your Photos Safe from Flood Water in the Future
To preserve and protect printed photos from flood water, gather as many photos, albums, negatives and VHS tapes as possible into plastic bags and place them in plastic boxes then:
- Put them in high areas around the house, such as the attic. Or,
- If safe to do so and you’re planning an evacuation by personal vehicle, take a box or two with you. Keep them with you until you head back home, or drop them off at a friend or relative whose house is safe.
- Days before the news of a hurricane approaching hits town, rent a storage space and put these boxes there, along with other important personal belongings.
- Save digital copies of your photos from your computer, phone, CDs and DVDs on rugged external hard drives, and take these with you or place them in a safe place.
- You can also upload important photos to a cloud service such as iCloud or Google Photos, where you can access them whenever you are.
For more information on how to care for damaged heirlooms and collections, head over to the FEMA website.
Were your photos damaged by flood water recently? Were you able to save some of them using these tips? Share your experience with thousands of affected people in the comments below.