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After Disaster Strikes…Photo Recovery

As Houston recovers from Hurricane Harvey and Florida from Hurricane Irma.  It leaves me with a sense of déjà vu.

Almost five years ago Hurricane Sandy stormed into the East Coast of the United States destroying property and taking lives. As with every disaster, generations of family photographs were caught in the weather. The storm surge washed images out of homes and into the streets.  In the midst of the aftermath and chaos, Jeannette von Houton found thousands of images covered in mud and mold.  Despite her own losses, she began focusing on reuniting those images with the families of her town of Union Beach, NJ. Other volunteers pitched into help clean and scan these found pictures.

A conservator colleague of mine suggested the team wear gloves for handling the very dirty images and masks to prevent them from inhaling chemicals and mold. Instead of distilled water, cold tap water sufficed to wash the images. This was a delicate task. Immersion in water can destroy the pictures, but with the damage they’d already experienced due to exposure to the elements and water-borne debris, it was worth the risk. Do not attempt this type of rescue without professional advice.

Months later, Jeannette and her cousin Joseph Larnaitis continued working with these images. Out of the approximately 25,000 images found, about 5,000 were saved. You can learn more on the project website, Union Beach Memories.

Perhaps you’ll form a team of volunteers and start saving images discovered in the storm debris. Professional scanners aren’t necessary. Google’s free Photo Scan App makes it easy to “scan” pictures.  A  free Flickr page can be used to share images.  Let’s try to save some of what the people in the Hurricane and fire zones have lost, even if it’s just a few treasured family photos.