For those of us returning to hurricane-damaged homes as well as those of us who one day will do the same, we asked This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook and general contractor Tom Silva to tell us what they would do first upon stepping back on their homestead after a hurricane.

This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook on post-storm yard cleanup

TOH.com: You've just entered your property. What are you looking for right away?

Roger Cook: Wires. If you see any, do not assume they're dead. Carefully walk away even if the lines are in a tree. Remember that that tree might be electrified if the wire is live. Just wait for power-company crews to come by.

TOH.com: Speaking of trees, what if there are trees down across your property?

RC: Storm cleanup is the trickiest work you can do in your yard—extremely tricky. Cut up and remove branches (lying) on the ground so you and emergency crews can access your house. Cutting up uprooted trees is different, though.

Ordinarily, when you cut up a standing tree, you fell it and lay it on the ground. You know where the stress points are. They are where the branches and trunk touch the ground. But when a tree's laying on a house, for example, you don't know where the stresses are. You could start cutting and have the tree move in a completely unexpected way. Or, say a branch is protruding into the house. You could cut it and maybe the whole tree rolls over onto someone or another part of the house.

TOH.com: Tell us about flooding.

RC: Clear anything blocking the drainage unless the water's moving. Never get near moving water. You can't tell how fast it's moving or maybe not even how deep it is. Try to clear the blockage with a stick or a rake. If you can't do that, step away and wait for the work crews.

People addressing ponding will sometimes grab a bucket and try to haul the water away, but remember that a five-gallon bucket full of water weighs 43 pounds. Be careful. You can dig a ditch, but be cognizant that you aren't draining your yard into your neighbor's basement.

TOH.com: If your damage is limited to a flooded lawn, and you've solved that problem, how do you salvage the grass?

RC: Try to remove the silt and debris. Then use a flat shovel to skim the lawn's surface. As the muck dries, rake the lawn and shovel again. Do this early because the lawn needs air and light as soon as possible. Fertilize once things dry out. Overall, prioritize when you get to your house. Do the tasks you can do safely. If you have doubts, or you need more people to help you, wait for that help. You've survived a catastrophe. Why hurt yourself now?
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