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How To Save Flooded Family Heirlooms

After what feels like endless flooding, many Texans are now trying to save water-logged family heirlooms.


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When you have only hours or even minutes to evacuate, there may not be time or space to rescue every beloved family photograph, china set and quilt. But many of these treasured possessions can be saved after a flood. The first step when assessing damage to belongings is to determine what can be easily purchased vs what is irreplaceable, according to Steve Pine with the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.

“Whether you value it for its historic importance, whether it has a monetary importance, or just sentimental reasons. And each individual has to balance out what makes the most sense,” said Pine, who co-chairs the Texas Cultural Emergency Response Alliance.

Ceramics, glass and many metals can simply be cleaned, so Grandma’s china is safe. Many textiles can also be washed, even if the fabric is old and delicate. But the big question mark is family photographs. Pine said photos can be saved, even if covered in mud or silt.

“Rinse those objects carefully, supporting them very evenly without undue stress in one area or one corner or another, and then you can actually hang them up to dry,” Pine said.

Another tip is to freeze any wet photos or documents that you can’t get to right away. This helps prevent mold and gives you some extra time to get the rest of your life in order before you start the process of salvaging photographs. And even some moldy photos can be saved. It’s just a more complicated process involving special cleansers, face masks, gloves and so on.

But what about saving items of great value, or heirlooms that need special treatment? Pine said it may be time to call a conservator.

“Then you may want to go to a professional. And there is an organization in the U.S. called the American Institute for Conservation, that is full of the trained professionals that work in libraries and museums and archives around the country that have been trained in exactly that kind of work,” Pine said.

For people who didn’t get flooded, there’s the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Pine suggested it’s always a good idea to digitize any photos, family papers and documents that you wouldn’t want to lose in a disaster.


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Laurie Johnson-Ramirez

Laurie Johnson-Ramirez

News Director

Laurie Johnson-Ramirez leads news coverage for Houston Public Media across broadcast and digital platforms. Ramirez is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. Before becoming News Director, Ramirez held the position of Executive Producer for Daily News, leading daily and breaking news coverage, helping...

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