Cleaning Up After a Hurricane

Cleaning up after a hurricane can be a dangerous project. Many jobs should be left to qualified professionals.

If you do take on smaller jobs yourself, make sure you have the right tools and safety gear to prevent unnecessary loss of life and limb.

Safety First!

Safety should always be your first concern when cleaning up your yard after a hurricane. Make sure you have the right tools, equipment, and basic safety knowledge before you begin working. More information about safety in the landscape is available at the Florida AgSafewebsite.

When you clean up tree damage after a storm, do not work alone. Recruit at least one partner to help you. Before you begin, you and your partner should survey the site. Identify the hazards and agree where injuries are most likely to happen. Come up with communication signals to use if you move out of each other's earshot.

Create a safe work zone by setting a perimeter more than two times the height of the tree you're working on. Mark the perimeter with bright-colored tape or cones, and keep non-workers outside this perimeter. Appoint a person to act as the "flagger" for traffic, or use barricades and warning signs.

Keep a well-stocked first-aid kit handy and know how to use everything in it. Avoid lifting objects that weigh more than 50 pounds, and lift with the legs (not the back) to reduce the chance of injury.

Last, but not least, avoid overexertion. Most injuries occur when workers are tired.

Using a Chain Saw

Chain saws may be the most dangerous power tool available to the public. Their blades can move up to 68 miles per hour, and their mufflers can get as hot as 900 degrees. During hurricane cleanup, when they are widely used to remove trees and branches, the risk of injury from chain saws increases. Follow these simple guidelines to help avoid such injuries.

Always read and follow the instruction manual that comes with your chain saw. Learn how to start and operate your particular saw safely.
Look for a chain saw with the following safety functions: a low-kickback chain, a hand guard, and a chain brake.
Wear protective equipment. Equipment for chain saw operators includes: protective head gear (a helmet), hearing protection, protective glasses and face shield, gloves, leg chaps, and heavy work boots. By keeping key areas of the body covered, you reduce the chance of injury.
Keep both hands on the chain saw handles at all times. Never use the saw with just one hand. Many chain saw injuries are the result of using the saw one-handed.
Cut at waist level or below. Always use the saw pointed downwards. Injuries to the head and face often result from making cuts above head level. Never cut a branch or trunk higher than your waist.
Cut AWAY from your body. Push the saw away from your body to make a cut. Never pull it towards yourself.
Avoid kickback. Kickback is when the upper tip of the saw blade contacts an object and causes the saw to come straight back at the operator. Kickback happens so fast that there is no time for reaction. To avoid kickback, never cut with the upper tip of the chain saw. Cut with the part of the blade closest to the engine. Watch the tip at all times, and make sure it does not come into contact with the ground or other branches.
Shut off the saw when refueling it or when carrying it a distance of more than a few feet, through slippery areas, or through heavy weeds or brush.
Make your presence known. Don't approach a chain saw operator unless you're sure he is aware of your presence. Because of the safety gear and the saw's noise, a chain saw operator often cannot see or hear the approach of other people.
Take your time to do the job right. Fatigue leads to injuries, so take breaks when you need them. If you're feeling too tired, stop working altogether.
Be extra careful when cutting bent or twisted limbs. Limbs that are bent, twisted, or caught under another object are more likely to snap back and hit you or the saw.
Unplug the saw when you walk away from it. Coil the wire and put the saw away when you're done using it.

Hiring a Professional

During hurricane cleanup, it's important to identify which jobs need to be done by  qualified professionals. For example, if you are a homeowner, use a chain saw only when you are on the ground. Get a qualified professional to do all other work, including any that involves climbing. Do not use ladders or ropes.

 A qualified professional with adequate equipment and insurance can take down trees in open areas or remove dead or hazardous limbs. 

Electrical Hazards

Only qualified professionals should work near electrical utilities damaged during the storm. Trees can uproot underground utilities and tear down power lines during hurricanes. The combination of electrical wires and floodwater creates an extremely hazardous environment. Line-clearance qualified professionals alone are qualified to work on these grounds.

Use Caution

Again, safety should always come first. Call the power company to report tree limbs fallen on power lines. Assume all power lines are dangerous, and do not touch them. Electrocution may occur if any part of your body touches a conductor (water, tool, tree branch, metal fence) in contact with an energized power line.

Sometimes large storms can devastate a community's trees. The cleanup of storm damage can be dangerous and expensive. But the good news is that after a hurricane, a community has the chance to better plan its urban forest so that future storms do less damage.

UF/IFAS Publications

Hurricane-Damaged Palms in the Landscape: Care after the Storm
Preparation for and Recovery from Hurricanes and Windstorms for Tropical Fruit Trees in the South Florida Home Landscape


Hurricane and Tropical Weather Prepardness Tips

Hurricane season lasts from June 1 through November 30. It is important to prepare ahead of any tropical weather.

After the storm

After the storm has passed, many homeowners step outside to assess the situation. Many remove trees that may look damaged when really they can be saved. Doing the right thing after a tree has been damaged could increase the chance of the tree surviving. The Arbor Day Foundation in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service and the International Society of Arboriculture urge home and property owners to follow a few simple rules in administering tree first aid after a storm:

  • Don't top your tree.
  • Don't try to do it all yourself.
  • Remove any broken branches still attached to the tree.
  • Repair torn bark.
  • Resist the urge to over prune.
  • Document any damage with pictures
  • Take reasonable actions to protect your property from further damage
  • Check on your neighbors
  • Avoid downed power lines and flooded areas
  • Expect delays and inconveniences
  • Even campus may be damaged, so please use care when traveling around to avoid hazards

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Hurricane Landscaping

Forecasters at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center are predicting a near-normal to above-normal hurricane season this year.

[A graphical image of the 2018 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook showing a prediction of 10-16 named storms, 5-9 hurricanes, 1-4 major hurricanes]

Hurricane season lasts from June 1 to November 30, with August and September being the most active months.

The 2017 season produced 17 named storms of which 10 became hurricanes including six major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5) – two of those became the first major hurricanes to hit the continental U.S. in 12 years.

Your family's safety is most important during a hurricane. One of the things you can do to help keep your family and home safe is to prepare your landscape properly. Here are some tips to help make sure your landscape is on its way to being hurricane-proof:

  • Right Tree, Right Place – Choose varieties of trees that are well-suited for your landscape. Plant larger trees away from your home, power lines, and other structures. This reduces the risk of branches—or of trees themselves—falling on your home or knocking down power lines.

  • Choose Wind-Resistant Species – Some trees are more wind-resistant than others, so do your homework. Suggested wind-resistant varieties include sabal palms and smaller palm varieties such as manila and pygmy date. Gumbo limbo, live oak, and sea grape also have high survival rates after hurricanes.

"Selecting Tropical and Subtropical Tree Species for Wind Resistance" (PDF) -- from the UF/IFAS Urban Forest Hurricane Recovery Program

  • Regular Pruning and Maintenance – Assess trees for branches that are dying, damaged, or weakly connected to the trunk. Regular pruning has several benefits: it promotes healthy growth; removes dead, dying, or diseased limbs; and can reshape the tree to be more resistant to wind damage. Thinning or reducing the crown of the tree helps to reduce trunk movement during a hurricane (learn more). If branches are large or high in the tree, it's best to hire a professional.

  • Planting in Groups or Masses – Planting groups of mixed trees together can greatly enhance wind resistance. The trees buffer each other as well as your property and other landscape plants.

After a hurricane, remember that your landscape needs to be maintained properly by a qualified professional.

Damaged trees need to be removed or restored by a qualified professional.