What to do if your home has been destroyed, what to do for someone with a destroyed home

A fireman spraying water on a burning house
Photo from Flickr: Loco Steve

I had an apartment fire about 6 years ago and lost close to everything. That experience taught me some lessons on what to do if your home has been destroyed by a tornado, hurricane,  fire, etc. and what to do for someone with a destroyed home. This really doesn’t have much to do with my profession, but it’s information I want to get out due to recent events and this is the best forum I could think of. 

What to do if your home has been destroyed:

  • Send-out an email and post on Facebook asap that you are ok, but probably won’t have a lot of time to respond to people right away. This will lessen the “Are you ok?” messages.  They are nice to get, but overwhelming.
  • Try to think positive and remember the good things in life. You know those old ugly dishes that your mother gave you and you couldn’t get rid of because she’d be upset? They are gone! Woo hoo!
  • Take care of yourself. Stop and eat, get your medications refilled asap and start taking them again, rest, etc. Not taking care of yourself will only make things worse.
  • Get a spiral bound notebook and pen. Keep track of phone calls, insurance case numbers, names, things you need to remember to do, etc.
  • Your insurance adjuster needs a list of the REPLACEMENT cost (not what it would be worth, but what it would cost to replace it) of everything you lost. Go to Target and other stores and sign-up for their gift registry. They will give you a scanner (in most cases). Go AISLE by AISLE and scan everything you lost. You’d be amazed what you will remember doing this (who thinks of salt and pepper shakers?), but the other benefit is, you’ll get a VERY handy list to turn-in by doing this.
    • I have to give credit to my State Farm adjuster for giving me this idea. Tony Wawzysko and State Farm, you were amazing. Thank you so much!
  • If you are visual like me, sit down and mentally walk through your home and look for things not on your list. Ask if you can walk through a couple of friend’s homes to also help trigger your memory on things you lost.
  • Send the lists out to your friends and family who are asking how they can help. I sent mine out and I was amazed at what people gave either new or that they had around their homes. I even got a solid oak bedroom set!
  • Ask friends and family to reprint/upload photos of times you were together (vacations, parties, etc.).
  • Ask friends and family to help you rebuild your movie and music collection legally (maybe an online wish list?).

What to do for someone with a destroyed home:


  • They will need water. I was so grateful when the Red Cross showed up with water!
  • They will need some cash for food and clothing.
  • They will probably need a place to sleep.
  • They will need everything you can think of that you would pack in an overnight bag (toothbrush, pajamas, underwear, hair brush, snacks, etc.).
  • When a friend of mine had an apartment fire, I took him one of those huge plastic storage tubs. In it, I put the following:
    • Toothbrush and toothpaste for him and his wife
    • A hairbrush and hairspray
    • Socks (I just remember really missing socks)
    • A spiral notebook and pen (see why in the first list)
    • A Bible (religion was important to him)
    • Deodorant
    • Other stuff that I can’t remember. See above about the overnight bag being a good barometer of what someone needs

After their immediate needs are met:

  • Tell them to go do the registries I mention in the first list. Offer to go “shopping” with them.
  • Go through your pictures and find any of times where you were with that person. Reprint the pictures and/or put them somewhere electronically for them (upload them to a cloud drive, burn them a CD, whatever).
  • Have an extra computer lying around? Let them borrow it. They will need it to do a lot of things online.
  • Look through your house and clothing. Are there things you could give them to use temporarily until they can go buy things for themselves? One caveat is you can’t be offended when they get rid of them after they DO buy things for themselves. No one did this to me, but I was worried about it.
  • One of the things I missed the most was my music collection (I now have it backed up like crazy!). If they lost their music or movie collection, offer to help them rebuild it (in a legal way).
  • One of my friends did something that was very cool. She brought me things I needed, but she also brought me a plastic tub. In it, she put fuzzy socks, a bottle of wine, pajamas, and a Best Buy gift card. When she saw the puzzled look on my face, she said something to the effect of, “Now, I know you. You are going to try to solve all of this as soon as possible and wear yourself out. So, one night this week, you are going to go to Best Buy and buy whatever movie you want. You are then going to put on these comfortable clothes, drink the wine, watch the movie, and relax.” I did what she said and it really did help.
  • Another friend also did something very cool. I had just come back from visiting her and had purchased some souvenirs while there. She went back around to everywhere I had bought things and re-bought them all for me.

I’m sure there is a lot that I’ve forgotten, but those are some key things that I remember being helpful. I hope, by publishing this, they will help someone else.

And, thank you again to all of my friends and family who helped me through my tragedy. I couldn’t have done it without you!

4 thoughts on “What to do if your home has been destroyed, what to do for someone with a destroyed home”

  1. Thank you for this. Just experienced an apartment fire myself and I’m still wrapping my mind around what to do. And while people are offering help… I don’t even know where to begin.

    1. Hi Stella,

      I am so sorry to hear about your fire. It’s such a horrible thing to go through.

      And I think your feelings if not knowing where to begin are really normal. I recommend starting with your basic needs: food, shelter, and clothing. Then, probably most important is to et the insurance stuff done. The sooner you get that done, the sooner you can get help from them. BUT, don’t forget to take time to rest each day too.

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