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University of Nebraska–Lincoln

UNL Extension in Lancaster County

Disasters, Severe Weather & Recovery

Helping Nebraskans enhance their lives through research-based education.

Guidance for Clean-Up from Tornados, Severe Storms

Media Release - May 2004

The recent tornados have caused much damage to homes, businesses and other buildings. Salvaging and disposing of items is a major undertaking when cleaning up after such disasters. The first step is to sort out the debris and damaged items. Decide what is worth salvaging and what should be disposed of. These decisions should be based on: extent of damage, cost of item, cost of repair/restoration and sentimental value. Safety and using proper steps for cleanup is a top priority. Always wear protective clothing, hard sole shoes, mask (HEPA), gloves and eye protection when cleaning.

Salvaging Items


Salvaging water-damage items whether they are from flood waters or just water damage from rain takes special care and treatment.

* Storm-soaked clothing -- Items to be dry-cleaned should be air-dried and taken to a cleaner as soon as possible. Once dry, shake and brush clothing outdoors to remove as much soil as possible.

Rinse washable items several times in cold water and an enzyme product or detergent. Wring out and air dry if you're unable to machine wash. Machine wash clothes as soon as possible. Use a heavy duty detergent and a disinfectant such as two tablespoons of chlorine bleach, or pine oil. Use highest water level possible, don't overcrowd washer and use hottest water temperature suitable for the garments. Select the longest wash cycle available. Dry in a dryer at the hottest temperature suitable for the fabric.

Stained or very dirty clothes may require adding an appropriate bleach to the wash. Follow directions on the bleach containers and garment tags for types and amounts to use.

* Furniture -- Hard-surfaced furniture usually cleans up well. Most porous upholstered furniture and mattresses should be discarded. If the item is a valuable piece or family heirloom, consider having it professionally cleaned and then restored by a qualified furniture refinisher or upholsterer.

If you decide to do it yourself, take furniture outdoors to clean. Wear protective clothing and a quality mask (N95 or better). Hose or brush off mud depending on whether the item is laminated, plywood or solid wood, etc. All parts (drawers, doors, etc.) should be removed. Remove or cut a hole in the back of less valuable items to push out stuck drawers and doors if necessary. Use a cleaner safe for the material. Veneers, plywood and laminates may loosen, warp and buckle. Always test cleaning procedures first on valuable pieces. Detergent and water can be used on many materials. Dry slowly out of direct sunlight (hot sunlight will warp furniture). It may take several weeks to several months to dry.

* Appliances -- Appliances that have been wet by rainwater and not flooded are often repairable. It is always desirable to have these repairs made by a reputable service person. Most appliances can be tilted slightly to drain and aid quick drying. Three days to a week or longer may be necessary for drying. An appliance repair person should check the items again before reconnecting. Most electrical appliances can be saved; however, check with your appliance and equipment professionals and insurance company first.

* Damaged Paper Items -- Handle wet or soggy paper gently. Water soaked paper items may be frozen to prevent rapid deterioration. This reduces the chance of mold growth. Place sheets of waxed paper between the pages before freezing. Freezing these items will give you time to check with a professional before defrosting the papers. Another method is to dry wet paper items between layers of clean white blotters (or white absorbent paper towels) or place the wet paper on top of the blotters to air-dry. Do not weight down. Avoid ironing wet paper. To avoid mold, keep the papers away from warmth as they air dry. Change absorbent paper or blotters as them become soaked.

Air dry photos, negatives and slides face up, placing blotting material beneath photographs. Avoid touching the surfaces. Don’t dry photos in direct sunlight. Photos which are stuck together may be separated after soaking in cold water. Services are available that will repair damaged photos. Scanning photos and using a photo editing program to make visual repairs is another option.

-- Lorene Bartos, UNL Extension in Lancaster County and Journal Star "Housewise" columnist; and Shirley Niemeyer, UNL Extension


Proper Disposal of Items


When cleaning up after a situation such as this, the best approach is to assess the types of waste you are dealing with, and what the disposal procedures should be. They fall into four main categories and can be disposed of in the following ways:

* Branches, Trees and Vegetative Wastes can be separated from the other debris and later can be sent to the community burn pile. These wastes can also be sent to a permitted disposal site.

* Construction Debris -- the structural materials from houses and buildings, such as concrete, boards, shingles, windows, siding, pipes, etc. -- can be taken to the closest Construction and Demolition landfill. To find out the locations of nearby C&D landfills, contact the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality at (402) 471-2186 during regular business hours, and at (402) 471-4545 after hours. These wastes can also be sent to a permitted disposal site. It should be noted that certain types of uncontaminated rubble (concrete and bricks, but not wood) does not necessarily need to be disposed of, and can be used as beneficial fill instead.

* Other Non-Hazardous Household Wastes -- such as trash and furniture -- should be sent to a permitted municipal landfill.

* Hazardous Wastes -- If you believe there are potentially hazardous wastes, more care and caution is needed. These wastes should be containerized, labeled, and ultimately sent to a facility that is permitted to store, treat or dispose of hazardous wastes. In these instances, it is important to contact the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NEQ) to discuss proper disposal procedures. DEQ can be reached at (402) 471-2186 during regular business hours, and at (402) 471-4545 after hours. Tracking would be required for these wastes. If it appears that there has been a spill involving potentially hazardous wastes, it is important to immediately contact the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality or other emergency response personnel on site and apprise them of the situation.

-- Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality


Storm Damaged Trees


Often, damage is relatively minor with only the smallest branches of the tree being injured. Usually, injury of this type results in little or no permanent damage to the tree. All that is required is clean-up of the broken twigs and branches and perhaps some light pruning to restore a pleasing shape.

More severe damage consisting of large broken branches, split crotches and/or removal of bark, and splitting or splintering of the trunk can occur. When a tree is severely damaged, the first question that must be answered is: "Is the condition of the tree such to make keeping it worthwhile?" Take the time and effort to save a tree only if a substantial portion of the tree remains intact and if, when repairs are made, the tree will still be attractive and of value to the property.

In some instances, the tearing of bark on large limbs or the main trunk occurs. Carefully trim away all loose bark back to the area where it is solidly attached. A sharp knife or chisel can be used to cut the bark.

Materials from fallen or salvaged trees can be used in several ways. The larger branches can be cut and used for firewood. Add smaller branches and twigs to the compost pile or cut up for kindling. Branches can also be converted into chips for use as a compost, mulch or other landscaping purposes if chipping equipment is available.

Following the cleanup and repair of storm damaged trees, make some new plantings. First, make certain the tree being considered is hardy to the area. Then, consider the potential insect and/or disease problems which may be associated with a particular species. It is also helpful to know the approximate size and shape of the tree when mature. Finally, consider characteristics of the tree other than the provision of shade, such as presence of spring flowers, attractiveness to birds, fall color and winter appearance.

-- Don Janssen, UNL Extension in Lancaster County and Journal Star "Garden Gossip" columnist


Assessing Crop Damage


University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension has many resources for assessing wind, hail and flood damage to crops. The following publications are available at your local extension office:

  • NebGuide (G85-762-A) "Soybean Yield Loss Due to Hail Damage;"
  • NebGuide (G86-803-A) "Assessing Hail Damage to Corn;"
  • NebGuide (G86-812-A) "Sorghum Yield Loss Due to Hail Damage

These and additional University of Nebraska resources are online at lancaster.unl.edu/ag

-- Tom Dorn, UNL Extension in Lancaster County

Additional Resources

* City of Lincoln Citizen Information Center; www.lincoln.ne.gov -- links to local agencies and resources, including the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department.

* Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality; (402) 471-2186 during business hours, (402) 471-4545 after hours; www.deq.state.ne.us -- advice regarding cleanup and disposal of debris.

* University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County, 444 Cherrycreek Road, Ste. A, Lincoln; (402) 441-7180; lancaster.unl.edu -- numerous UNL Cooperative Extension storm-related resources and links to similar sites.

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