Where do you start when everything has been lost?

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Where Do You Start When Everything Has Been Lost-

Again and again, whether by fire, flood, or natural disaster, individuals and families face the challenge of starting their lives from scratch when their homes have been destroyed. Piles of debris are all that remain of homes and lifetimes of memories.  In the initial hours and days following such a disaster, what do you do?  Where do you start when everything has been lost?

In a crisis, it’s easy to lose perspective and fear causes us to, quite literally, not think clearly.  A “To Do” list is needed.  Here are a few tips from my book.

  • You need help! Check to see if a relative or a  friend can provide temporary housing for your family. This is no time to be proud. You need help, and your true friends will be more than willing to do anything they can to help.
  • Wherever and whenever help of any kind is offered, take it!
  • Churches will be first on the ground with practical help. Let your church know right away that you need help, and if you aren’t a church member, reach out anyway.
  • If a Red Cross or FEMA shelter isn’t an option, you’ll have to stay in a hotel or a tent. If you’re a timeshare owner, this might be a good time to use up some of those banked weeks!
  • Access your important documents in your Grab-n-Go Binder, or the one you have stored with a trusted friend, and begin to contact your insurance companies.
  • Move quickly to rent a car, file with your insurance, or get a hotel. Within hours, these resources will be flooded with people in the same desperate situation.
  • Acquire heavy duty gloves, closed-toed boots and work clothes to wear as you sift through debris. This will be hard physical labor, but it will also be emotionally draining to see the ruins of what was once your family’s home. Take plenty of breaks as you search for salvageable belongings and be ready to call it a day when fatigue begins to set in.
  • Kids are going to have a particularly rough time of it. If possible, designate an adult to keep watch over the kids in a location away from your ruined home and keep them distracted with videos, read-alouds, and playground time. This would be an ideal time for a longer-than-usual visit to grandma’s house.
  • It will take time, perhaps a lot of time, before the insurance company evaluates your losses and cuts a check, so be prepared to wait.
  • In the meantime, there will be dozens of decisions to be made. Where will you stay for the duration? Will the kids be able to continue with their schooling or will you need to homeschool for a while? Do you know of reputable disaster recovery companies? Reputable contractors? Roofers? Electricians? If you don’t have these names and phone numbers in your Grab-n-Go binder, now would be a good time to add them.
  • Quickly access any funds you have in your banking account(s). Remember, in an emergency “Cash is King!” If the power is out, chances are that your debit and credit cards will be useless, and vendors may not be willing to accept checks.
  • Use your cell phone or digital camera to begin documenting the damage to your home, vehicle, and property. E-mail the photos to yourself, so you’ll have easy access to them in the future and will be able to forward them to your insurance agent.
  • Depending on the time of year and weather conditions, elderly family members, infants, and anyone with chronic health issues should probably relocate somewhere less stressful, where medical facilities are easily accessible. Summer heat and humidity affect them more than anyone else.
  • Now, more than ever, spend time with people who lift you up and always seem to see the silver lining behind every cloud.

Above all, guard your mental and emotional health.  Be willing to seek out a pastor, counselor, or mental health professional and understand that it’s okay to cry and grieve.  Recovery, in every sense of the word, is going to take time.

You really need to become a prepper

Becoming a prepper may have never crossed your mind. Perhaps, thanks to shows like Doomsday Preppers, you associate being prepared for a worst case scenario with paranoid mouth breathers, basements filled with freeze-dried food, and families scrambling for hazmat suits.

Well, I’m a prepper. I homeschool our kids, am an avid bicyclist, and love Mexican food and Lord of the Rings! Almost no one in our circle of friends knows that we prep because we are just like them — busy with kids, sports, yard work, and job. What makes us different, though, is that, over the past 7 years, we have become better and better prepared for life’s curve balls.

That hardly makes us paranoid nuts!

If you’re not sure where or how to begin to create a home and family that is prepared and resilient, consider joining the online membership group, Survival Mom Sisterhood and get monthly mini-classes, live Q&A sessions, exclusive community groups, and a lot more.

Just one real life example of losing everything

This video, from the immense wildfire that hit the town of Fort McMurry in Alberta, may change your mind if you’ve never heard of prepping, have slowed down with your own preparedness (after all, life does have its many distractions), or have thought prepping just wasn’t for you.

This cozy living room, complete with a pristine fish tank and cozy pillows and blankets, could be yours or mine and yet, within minutes, it was consumed by fire. I can’t imagine the heartbreak the homeowners felt as they watched this video.

Getting started with prepping is as easy as buying a few extra cans of soup or tuna the next time you’re out grocery shopping. Take that first step!

This article was originally posted in March 2012, and updated.

Where Do You Start When Everything Has Been Lost-2


14 thoughts on “Where do you start when everything has been lost?”

  1. I live in Huntsville, AL. Our area was devastated in the April 2011 storms and were hit hard again last week. I am a member of our county Certified Emergency Response Team (CERT) and again spent the weekend helping with recovery efforts. Between last year’s storms and this one, I learned something that I would do immediately following a tornado (or other event) that damaged our home. If there was enough damage to the structure that the home was unsecured, but items were salvageable… the first phone call I would make is to the POD company (or one like it). For about $250, POD will come deliver a lockable storage “trailer” to your property, come back to the house to pick it up and store it off site if desired, for up to one month (of course, you can pay to keep it stored longer) and then deliver it back to you at your new location. For people without a truck and the ability to transport belongings to a nearby storage facility (which is much cheaper but you’re doing all the transporting and loading on and off a truck yourself), this can be a huge help. Plus, when it’s time to move into a new location, the items are already loaded and ready to go… no need to reload from a regular storage facility. The worry about looters is removed, your items are immediately protected from the elements, and it gives you time to figure out what you are going to do next. PODs can be delivered quickly… they have a disaster program and know what they are doing. Check them out… and add their phone number to your Grab-and-Go binder… and no, I do NOT work for them. 🙂 http://www.pods.com/home-damage-and-emergencies/disaster-recovery.aspx

    1. Fantastic idea! I immediately added the ph# to my phone. Tornados scare the bejeesus out of me! They are so completely unpredictable!

  2. Because of tornadoes in my area recently and many times past; one a near miss in ’95, I rented a large safety deposit box at the credit union. (I’m 90 mi from the gulf coast). It holds quite a lot of documents, house papers, etc. I don’t store coins, money or jewelry, S.S., 401k papers, and stock certificates. I suggest this to everyone living in an area that has storms. S.mall home fire safes are ok for some items. We keep extra cash on hand at all times. After seeing all the damage over the years on the news, I wonder if it even pays to own a house!

  3. PODs are great but are not the only ones anymore. PackRat, UPAK and some others have pop up. Check your local listing and keep checking every 6 months when you update your numbers. Some new ones may have come in and even old ones closed by the time you may need them. Also rental car companies like Enterprise will bring a vehicle to you and may run out of them quickly right after a disaster. Keep a list of closest ones to your location and also list with them any member numbers and discounts you may be able to get with each company, ex: because you are an AARP, Cosco, Sams Club, AAA member.

  4. When my wife and I married in 06/1977 we only had a few months together before we survived a flood. We have always counted ourselves lucky since the house in front of us caught the wave of water coming off the mountain from lake Nixon. It hit with enough force to knock the house a foot off its foundation. It was 8 or 9 hours before anyone could get to us. When they did the water was still deep enough that I had to carried my wife for 100 yards to get to land. She was afraid since she could not swim. We lost most of what we had. I’m glad that when we started over we didn’t have to worry about all we lost since we had nothing.
    Every since that day we have always looked at where we lived. Always on high ground and out of any known tornado path. After that we always wanted to prepare for events like this but didn’t have the money until the last few years. May be not as much as most of you but enough to get us by in case of need or to help others as needed.
    We never know what tomorrow will bring but if possible we can prepare a little to easy the pain.

  5. Extra thought. In addition to having your Get Home Bag in your car, give some thought (with so many families having two vehicles) to leaving it outdoors rather than both garaged. If the house is severely damaged (example fire) you would at least have one car to use, and opening the garage door to save a garaged car while the house is still on fire would create a draft that would make things worse.
    I also regularly leave some camping gear in my car that wouldn’t appear desirable for thieves but could become handy after a disaster.

  6. Thank you for reposting this. I live in Alberta, approx. 6-7 hours away from Fort McMurrary & as I write there is so much smoke in the air here. I’m now starting a bug-out-bag. Your information is very helpful & very timely. Thanks for all you do & please keep posting.

    1. The Survival Mom

      There are plenty of survival and prepping books on the market. I’ve listed just a few here.

  7. Hi, Lisa –

    Where in Texas do you live? I’m in Prosper and would love to get some gardening tips from you. This Texas clay is something else!

    I watched your Sun Oven webinar and would have loved to have been able to get one (what a great deal) but just too pricey for me at the time.

    Love your blog. I do most of the things you recommend, with a bit of a twist. As much as possible, I am canning, dehydrating and storing organic and non-GMO foods. SHTF or not, GMOs can kill you and I would like to give my loved ones at least that protection. Of course, it means it is taking me longer to build up a prepper pantry, but I have canned over 1,000 jars of varying items (meats, veggies, beans, potatoes, butter, cheese, etc) and dehydrated about 100 jars of fruits, veggies, some meats, spices (making my own organic garlic and onion powders)

    I do feel that being prepared is a form of stewardship and have felt led by the Lord to follow through on this for my family.


    1. The Survival Mom

      Hi Karen, I live a few hours south and east of you! The soil here is really different. Look into making your own solar oven. There are many DIY articles and YouTube videos that will help you. What you’re doing is a huge blessing to your family.

  8. Where do I start? When I was 12 years old, our house burned completely. Fortunately, no one was home. We lost EVERYTHING. One thing I learned at that time is that the time and effort to create a list of belongings was an enormous task for my parents. Then, during a forest fire, my parents home burned to the ground again. In this fire, however, my dad had forewarning so was able to get some personal belongings out – papers, photos, clothing, etc. It was still devastating. We, again, learned that the task of creating the list of belongings was an incredible task.

    My suggestion: TAKE PHOTOS of your home. With a digital camera or phone, take photos of all walls, furniture, appliances. Create a list of most belongings. You could take one room at a time and do this. Scan your list and store it on CD. Make copies of your CD(s) and give a copy to a trusted relative or friend who lives away from you or get these into a safe deposit box. When something like a fire, tornado, flood, etc., occurs, you then only need to have a copy sent to you to recreate what the insurance company requires.

    You could also scan and save on CD any important papers you have. Photos would also be something that I would scan and keep on CD. I also use ICloud to keep some of my important documents.

    When you purchase a new big ticket item, be sure to add that to your inventory.

    The bags in your cars are great but they cannot or do not generally have all of the above.

    Stay safe and be prepared.

    When Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, my mother-in-law’s and brother-in-law’s homes were destroyed and an aunt’s home was severely damaged. A week after the storm, our family and some friends were privileged to help in the aftermath. The above suggestion of renting a pod is an excellent one, but the entire area along the Gulf Coast was so torn up that no pod could have been delivered for a very long time. We had a large trailer that we loaded up with what possessions we could extract from the dunes of lumber that had been our families’ homes. Containers-of all sorts, but especially sturdy large plastic, waterproof ones were invaluable. We hauled family possessions to our home, cleaned them, and then stored them in the stacking plastic containers until our relatives could reclaim them. It is very important to have spare tires, tire patch kits, and 12VDC compressors with you when you are in an area with a lot of debris on the roads. We traveled into the coast as a self-sufficient unit with food, water, tools, tarps, and other supplies. Of course, water was a significant issue. We used our potable water only for drinking, cooking, and limited hand-washing. We knew that when our water got low, we had to leave. At the damaged home we were able to remove the wet carpets, cover the roof with tarps, do some roof repair, and secure it. While camping there, we used buckets of black water from a swimming pool to flush toilets. To bathe, we swam in the Gulf at night. There was no electricity for miles. The only light was the lantern on the porch of the home we were camping in. The beauty of the trees (what was left of them) on the shoreline outlined against the dark, starry skies and the streams of light in the water from the luminescent sea creatures was an unforgettable contrast to the scene of wreckage that greeted our eyes during the day. It’s important to look for “the beauty among the ashes” when possible.

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