Five years ago, I left my home in Northfield to head up the Hurricane Katrina rebuilding effort in New Orleans.

I and my team inspected every city building and found remarkable damage that had initially gone unnoticed. In almost every case, this resulted in the Federal Emergency Management Agency and insurance companies providing significant additional recovery dollars.

Remember, absolutely anything and everything is damaged if it was exposed to salt water.

Here's what happens in a hurricane flood: Drywall will wick up moisture. If it has been underwater it has to be replaced - in total - not that lower strip you will be told to replace. Salt water will sit in the base and track of metal stud walls, and in several months the track and studs start to rust.

All electrical wiring that has been exposed to salt water has to be replaced. It will corrode and be dangerous. When you strip out the walls, take out all drywall and insulation. It is unsalvageable. Let things dry out and then apply some form of anti-mold spray. Industrial- strength Clorox works.

Steel tube columns will corrode from the inside out, so they must be drilled open and cleaned out. Fire hydrants will rust up from the inside and malfunction. They must be disassembled and cleaned. Street lights will have their base plates rust away and must be cleaned.

There is one inescapable fact: If it was exposed to salt water, it is damaged. Submerged streets have their base damaged and must be replaced. Stainless steel will rust. All metal will rust, even the nails in the walls.

Mold is your biggest enemy after the storm. Address it or you will lose what little is salvageable. When dealing with FEMA and insurance companies, be smart and you will maximize your recovery dollars. Take their recommendations and you will pay the consequences. It's all about the money, and their job is to give as little as possible.

Good luck, and stick to your guns.


New Orleans

Bill Chrisman is the former capital projects director for the city of New Orleans.