Smithsonian Institute Helps Recover Memories Damaged in Iowa Floodwater

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SIDNEY, Iowa- Residents western Iowa have had many homes flooded out over the past month. In addition to the loss of living space, is many personal items, photos, books and documents are now water-logged and muddy.

FEMA officials announced this week a series of workshops in Sidney, Glenwood, Missouri Valley, and Woodbury County to help those in need to learn how to recover some items.

“We’re here with the saving your family treasures program we’re here to teach survivors techniques that will allow them to salvage their personal items,” said Colleen Carroll, of the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative. “But if the object has personal value to you, these are small steps you can take with supplies that come from your local Walmart your local hardware store easy to get.”

The FEMA team set up in the Emergency Operation Center in the Fremont County Engineers Office outside Sidney. The demonstrated using distilled water and a brush to restore photos.

“Post 1970 photos were developed in water so then it’s OK for them to go back into water,” said Carroll. “Photographs that are stuck together it will slowly start to come part If there’s any debris or anything like that in your photograph she can take a paintbrush while they’re in the water very gently and one directions to brush off the debris.”

Books can be saved with paper towels between the pages, and change the towels when wet. The books should not be in sunlight or heavy breeze, but should be well ventilated. If a book is damaged, and you don’t have time to deal with it, you can put it in the freezer.

“Put them in the freezer that’ll put a stop on whatever is happening to the book it will keep mold from growing on it in the freezer can help dry it out just a little bit,” said Carroll.

Below is a tip list, courtesy of FEMA, with information which can help people with flooded documents:

Here are some basic procedures to get you started:
·      If your prized possessions have been in contact with sewage or any chemicals, you will need professional help. Call IMALERT (Iowa Museums, Archives and Libraries Emergency Response Team) at 319-384-3673. They accept calls from members of the public and can provide advice and suggest a conservator who can help you. Other sources of help include the Ford Conservation Center in Omaha, 402-595-1180, and the Midwest Art Conservation Center in Minneapolis at 612-870-3120.
·      Gentle air-drying indoors is best for all your treasured belongings. Hair dryers, irons, ovens and prolonged exposure to sunlight will do irreversible damage. Increase indoor airflow with fans, open windows, air conditioners and dehumidifiers.
·      Use great caution in handling your heirlooms, which can be especially fragile when wet. Separate damp materials: remove the contents from drawers; take photographs out of damp albums; remove paintings and prints from frames; place paper towels between the pages of wet books.
·      Gently loosen dirt and debris on fragile objects with soft brushes and cloths. Avoid rubbing, which can grind in the dirt.
·      Clean photographs by rinsing them carefully in clean water. Air-dry photos on a plastic screen or paper towel, or by hanging them by the corner with plastic clothespins. Don’t let the image touch any other surfaces as it dries.
·      You may not be able to save everything, so focus on what’s most important to you, whether for historic, monetary or sentimental reasons.

For more information, visit the Heritage Emergency National Task Force at or emailHENTF@si.ed.


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