When Michael Marrone drove to the beach to take a look at oncoming superstorm Sandy, he realized his Copiague Harbor residence was in for a hit.
Sure enough, he and his wife, Ileana, returned the next day after staying with friends to find their home filled with 2½ feet of water -- a surge that soaked furniture and appliances, drenched the walls, saturated clothing and left a thick layer of mud on their lawn.
What they didn't expect was the emotional punch that came with discovering how many personal treasures had been destroyed. Things like Michael's stamp and coin collection or, for his wife, the 40 pairs of shoes in her closet. They have yet to open a waterlogged box filled with family and vacation photos, but they know what they'll find.
"Those memories are gone," says Michael, 66, a client services manager for a communications firm.
This is a scene being played out everywhere in the storm's aftermath. The hard truth is that most of the contents in households like this will have to be discarded. But there is hope.
Here are some tips on how to salvage what you can -- if not from this storm, then ones in the future. Plus, some advice about how to get over your losses.
The first tip is to wear rubber or latex gloves and a protective mask, especially if dealing with mold that can cause illness.
"Photographs are part of our lives and ourselves," says James Reilly, director of the Image Permanence Institute at Rochester Institute of Technology. "People can't afford to lose them."
That's why you should always keep duplicates or negatives in a watertight container or stored at another location, Reilly says. Digital pictures, of course, can be preserved through an online service.
Otherwise, the key to saving wet photos is to move fast. The longer photos remain wet, the more likely they are to disintegrate or be lost to mold. Most photos can be retained after being in water for a few days, Reilly says, but ink jet prints are seldom retrievable if left wet more than 24 hours.
Here's what to do: Take the photos out of their album or any protective plastic sleeves, immerse them in cold, clean water and carefully wipe off any dirt with a damp cotton ball or soft cloth. Rinse with clean water, preferably distilled or purified. Place the photos between non-textured paper towels and replace them when they get wet.
An alternative is to air dry prints by hanging them on a clothesline, Reilly says. You can also lay them image side up on screened material to air out both sides. A fan can speed things along, but don't aim it directly at the photos. Once dry, most prints can be flattened by placing them under a weight.
If you can't deal with photos within two days, put them in plastic bags and store them in the freezer to work on later. Whatever you do, Reilly says, don't let them stay wet too long and get moldy.
Furnishings, furniture and rugs
The microbial biodiversity of the sea makes it a great place for fish but not furniture.
"Anything porous covered by seawater is basically contaminated," says Rose Ann Martin, who along with her husband, Brian, owns the Advanced Restoration Corp. in West Babylon, which helps people recover from fire loss, water damage, vandalism or other disasters.
This means that for sanitary and health reasons, pretty much all upholstered furniture and rugs along with mattresses and box springs in a flooded home will have to be abandoned, she says. Coffee tables or furniture made with wood can be cleaned but can expand and crack when drying, which means those items also may have to be thrown out.
"If you could have driven down my street in West Islip last week, you would have seen the contents of every house out on the curb," Martin says.
Homeowners also should be careful to make sure their home is dry enough to move back into, Martin says. His company uses a mathematical equation to make sure enough fans and dehumidifiers have been spread around to dry a house out properly. Afterward, workers use a meter to make sure there is a safe moisture level in the building materials, Martin says.
Metal lawn furniture may be rinsed off and saved. A washing machine also can come in handy.
"Whatever you have left, if you can wash it with soap in a washing machine," Martin says, "it will probably be OK."
Computers, laptops and cellphones
The problem is that water creates high resistance points in electronics as well as corrosion, which causes more current than necessary to be drawn into a circuit, he says. That's why if you turn on a waterlogged electric motor, it typically runs, smokes, sputters and eventually fails, he says.
"It's like trying to squeeze three cars down a one-lane road all right next to each other."
Usually, a computer expert will take out the hard drive from a wet desktop or laptop and go over it carefully with a hot-air dryer or compressed air and then test it with an outside, external source, he says. If that doesn't work, data from the hard drive can still be retrieved, although by much more expensive means, Aletkin says. His company only charges customers if the retrieval is successful, he says.