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Dec 18th
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Home Travel Preservation Tips to Limit Flood, Storm Damage to Family Heirlooms

Preserving Family Treasures

Tips to Limit Flood, Storm Damage to Family Heirlooms

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Tropical storms and other flood events such as rivers overflowing their banks are often termed disasters because of injuries, fatalities and the destruction of homes and businesses. Part of the disaster is the loss of family culture or heirlooms.

"I am so saddened by the stories of people who have lost so much from floods and storms," said National Park Service Director Mary A. Bomar. "They often look into the camera and tell us ‘they're only photos and we're alive' but those emotions can't hide the truth - loss of personal heirlooms is devastating."
Director Bomar said, "The National Park Service has been at the forefront in the effort to save, preserve and protect America's treasures for nearly a century. We have tips from our conservation and preservation experts so that people will be able to take actions to save family heirlooms before disaster strikes and tips for how to deal with flood-damaged items."

The National Park Service, along with other members of the Heritage Emergency National Task Force, also produced a public service announcement video to help families. It's available on-line at http://www.ncptt.nps.gov

The following tips are adapted from the Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel produced by Heritage Preservation in support of the Heritage Emergency National Task Force http://www.heritagepreservation.org

Preparation before flooding:

  • Avoid storing family heirlooms in the basement, which is likely to flood.
  • Evacuate heirlooms, such as family photo albums, when possible--otherwise, place in closets or rooms without windows on upper floors.

Response and recovery after flooding:

  • Even if they are completely soaked, family treasures can probably be saved, if they are not contaminated with sewage or chemicals. Work on high priority items first.
  • Freeze books, paper, textiles, and most photographs that cannot be cleaned and dried within 48 hours to prevent mold. Interleave with freezer or waxed paper, if possible. Consult a conservator before freezing metal, plate glass, paintings, some photographs, and furniture.
  • Photographs: Rise with cool, clean water, as necessary. Hang with clips on non-image areas or lay flat on absorbent paper.
  • Books: If rinsing is necessary, hold book closed. If partially wet or damp, stand on top or bottom edge with cover open to 90-degree angle and air dry.
  • Paper: Air dry flat as individual sheets or small piles up to 1/4". Interleave with paper and replace interleaving when damp. Do not unfold/separate individual wet sheets.
  • Textiles: Rinse, drain and blot with clean towels/cotton sheets. Block and shape to original form. Air dry using air conditioning/fans. Do not unfold delicate fabrics. Do not stack wet textiles.
  • Furniture: Rinse/sponge surfaces gently to clean. Blot. Air dry slowly. If paint is blistered or flaking, air dry slowly without removing dirt or moisture. Hold veneer in place with weights while drying. Separate from veneer with protective layer. Upholstery: Rinse. Remove separate pieces, such as cushions and removable seats. Wrap in cloth to air dry and replace cloth when damp.
  • Framed paintings: Carefully remove from frames in dry area. Keep paintings horizontal, paint side up, elevated on blocks. Avoid direct sunlight.
  • Framed art on paper or photographs with glass fronts: Remove from frames, unless art is stuck to glass. Dry slowly, image-side up with nothing touching the image surface. If art sticks to glass, leave it in frame and dry glass-side down.
  • If a precious item is badly damaged, a conservator can help. For guidelines on selecting a conservator, see http://aic.stanford.edu/public/select.html

Finally, think about calling in a professional.

If a precious item is badly damaged, a conservator may be able to help, agency experts said. Be sure to collect broken pieces, and set your treasures aside in a well-ventilated room until you find professional help.

To locate a conservator, contact the Guide to Conservation Services, American Institute for Conservation, (202) 452-9545. The web site can be found at http://aic.stanford.edu

For reliable online information and links to professional conservation resources, see www.heritageemergency.org

Note: These recommendations are intended as guidance only. Neither the Heritage Emergency National Task Force, nor its sponsors Heritage Preservation and FEMA, assumes responsibility or liability for treatment of damaged objects.