Even though valuable photographs and family heirlooms have been damaged by flood waters, they can sometimes be saved if certain procedures are followed, say emergency managers and restoration experts.
Photographs may be the only record of special occasions such as weddings, birthdays and graduations. Damaged photographs for which there are no negatives available should receive attention first. Once photographs have stuck together or become moldy, saving them may not be possible.
Washing photos: Handle all wet photos carefully as the surfaces may be fragile. Wet photos may be washed and rinsed in clean water (if necessary), but be careful not to touch the surfaces. Handle only the edges. Dry them face up in a single layer on a clean surface, such as a table, window screen or clean plastic.
Avoid drying the photos in direct sunlight as splitting, warping or fading of the photos could happen. Photographs may curl during drying, but they can be flattened later.
Freezing photos: If a freezer is available, freeze the photos immediately after rinsing them. Seal several photos at a time in plastic bags with a tie or a Zip-Lock type plastic bag. If possible, place wax paper between each individual photo to prevent sticking. Later, photos may be separated and air-dried.
Drying photos: The key to drying photos is air circulation. Electric fans, when used safely, can significantly aid in the drying and preservation of your important memories. And remember: if floodwaters did not damage the negatives, you can make additional prints anytime.
Ten Tips for Recovering Other Water-Damaged Valuables:
- If the object is still wet, rinse with clear, clean water or a fine hose spray. Clean off dry silt and debris with a soft brush or dab with a damp cloth. Be careful not to grind debris into the object.
- Air-dry objects indoors if possible. Sunlight and heat may dry certain materials too quickly, causing splits, warping and buckling.
- Inhibit the growth of mold and mildew by reducing the level of humidity. Increase airflow with fans, open windows, air conditioners and dehumidifiers.
- Remove heavy deposits of mold growth from walls, baseboards, floors and other household surfaces with commercially available disinfectants. Avoid using disinfectants on historic wallpapers.
- If objects are broken or begin to fall apart, place all broken pieces, bits of veneer and detached parts in clearly labeled open containers. Do not attempt to repair objects until completely dry or, in the case of important materials, until you have consulted with a professional conservator.
- Documents, books, photographs, and works of art on paper may be extremely fragile when wet; be careful when handling them. Free the edges of prints and paper objects in mats and frames, if possible. These should be allowed to air dry.
- Soaked books and papers should also be air dried, or may be kept in a refrigerator or freezer until a professional conservator can treat them. Textiles, leather, and other “organic” materials will also be severely affected by exposure to water and should be allowed to air dry.
- Remove wet paintings from the frame but not from the stretcher. Air dry, face up, away from direct sunlight.
- Furniture finishes and painting surfaces may develop a white haze or bloom from contact with water and humidity. These problems do not require immediate attention. Consult a professional conservator for treatment.
- Rinse metal objects exposed to flood waters, mud, or silt with clear water and dry immediately with a clean, soft cloth. Allow heavy mud deposits on large metal objects, such as sculpture, to dry. Caked mud can be removed later. Consult a professional conservator for further treatment.
Because the information given is general, the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC), the National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property and FEMA strongly recommend that professional conservators be consulted regarding the appropriate method of treatment for historic objects.
Professional conservators may be contacted through the AIC website: http://aic.stanford.edu. The website includes the 10 tips listed above, plus other information on preserving and restoring water-damaged articles. For further information, you also can write American Institute for Conservation, 1156 15th Street NW, Suite 320, Washington, DC 20005.
Further information is available online at http://www.fema.gov/hazard/flood/coping.shtm.