One of my first posts from last year dealt with disaster planning and some first hand experiences I had with a library fire. I hadn’t thought I would be revisiting that topic again so soon. However, I have. But his time the disaster was not with a library or archive, but my own personal collection.
Exactly one week ago our water softener blew a gasket and the basement flooded. It is a finished basement and housed a significant chunk of my personal book collection. With this experience fresh in my mind, I wanted to write about how my Dad and I reacted. Chances are it could help someone if something similar happens to them.
First, Dad called a repairman. Second, we began moving everything. As the leak affected the middle of the basement, everything was moved to the peripheral. Parts of four rooms and the hallway had been drenched. The three rooms that had concrete or linoleum floors (bathroom, laundry room, and utility room) had towels placed over the water to soak it up. The main room and hallway had carpet so Dad used the shop vac to suck up as much water as possible. There were rugs in all areas and they were taken outside to dry. We hung them on the boat and my old swing set. Because of the softener’s location, the utility room and hallway took the brunt of the water. Unfortunately, that hallway held two of my five-shelf book cases.
Luckily, the books were not damaged. There was a three-inch lip on the bottom of the shelve which kept them above water. Had the water come from a backed up sewer or septic tank or weather-related flooding, things would not have fared so well. Again, luckily, we don’t have to worry about the weather-related flooding as we live on a high hill. If flood waters reached us, then it would have to be a repeat of the Biblical Flood and we would need our own ark. But the shelves did not fare well.
In order to move and dry out the shelves, I had to spent nearly an hour moving books by the armful to another room. There, I stacked them in the order in which they were removed so I could maintain their arrangement. As these were mostly my non-fiction books, I had then grouped by topics even though I didn’t opt to use full Dewy Decimal or Library of Congress formats. After that task was complete, Dad and I moved the bookshelves to a dry area and laid them sideways. A fan was placed nearby to help dry them out.
Two other fans were placed in the flooded area. There are two reasons for that. First, it helps speed the drying process along. The shop vac could suck up a lot of water, but the carpets and furniture bottoms were still damp. Second, circulating air helps prevent mold. That goes doubly if the air is kept cool (if the air conditioner is not on, turn it on!); warm air promotes mold growth. Why does it prevent mold? For one, the spores that form cannot settle. Secondly, air dries things out, removing the damp conditions mold needs to thrive.
We left all the moved furniture and books in the peripheral for several days and ran the fans when we were home. Once we were certain everything was dried out (once it feels dry, still give it a day for the deep dampness you may not feel), we returned everything to their place.
Also, another lesson learned. Mom had a framed photograph from Dad’s Navy days leaning on the wall and it took a bit of water damage. While the cardboard backing took the brunt, a corner of the 11″ by 14″ did become damp. Thanks to my archival training, it was saved and now one cannot tell damage ever occurred. I quickly removed it from the frame, and in absence of blotter paper, placed it between two smooth hand towels (the non-terry cloth kind) and placed some flat weights on top. The photo dried out without any noticeable damage. Should something like this happen to you, just try the same method. If you have them, microfiber cloths would probably also work well. If the photos are completely drenched and/or there are a lot of them, then it may be better to seek professional help. In that scenario, one would need lots of blotter paper and some spun polyester sheeting, as placing the spun polyester over the photo’s emulsions (the color we think of as the photo) prevents the emulsions from sticking to the absorbent surface and ruining the photo. The same goes for documents, as the ink could bleed out if pressed directly to an absorbent surface.
Lastly, should something like this happen to you and you cannot conduct damage control yourself, call a service that specializes in water damage clean up, such as SERVPRO.
Do you think this knowledge would help you if a similar disaster struck your home? Have you had something similar happen and want to share some tips or tricks we didn’t think about?