'All Is Not Lost': These Experts Help Save Hurricane-Soaked Heirlooms Hurricane victims can replace chairs, cars, even homes. But they can't replace family photos or VHS tapes of grandma. So the Smithsonian and FEMA have dispatched a "heritage task force" to Texas.
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'All Is Not Lost': These Experts Help Save Hurricane-Soaked Heirlooms

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'All Is Not Lost': These Experts Help Save Hurricane-Soaked Heirlooms

'All Is Not Lost': These Experts Help Save Hurricane-Soaked Heirlooms

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Back to a more trying time, Hurricane Harvey, which caused catastrophic flooding in Houston back in August. Now, people often try to console survivors of something like that by saying the damage was to things and things can be replaced, but what about things that can't be like a family Bible or a photo album or a quilt? Allison Lee of Houston Public Media tells us about a small government team trying to help.

ALLISON LEE, BYLINE: Experts from agencies like FEMA and the Small Business Administration are at tables inside a former Goodwill store in Beaumont, Texas - so is Teddy Reeves.

TEDDY REEVES: You fan out the pages. Now when you fan out the pages, you notice they get a little wrinkled.

LEE: He's normally a curator at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in D.C., but here, he's part of the joint Smithsonian and FEMA Heritage Emergency National Task Force.

REEVES: You know when you're picking up paper, it can rip when it's wet.

REBECCA COLLINS: Yeah, it sure does.

LEE: He's showing nurse Rebecca Collins how to salvage water-damaged family photos by using an aluminum foil turkey pan, a paintbrush and distilled water.

REEVES: Gently wipe the book. Wipe the book in the pan.

LEE: Collins is wearing her scrubs and stopped by the recovery center for assistance before going back to work at the hospital. Along with photos, she wants to save her academic materials.

COLLINS: Pictures and like documents, also like certificates, you know, like your diploma, you know. And then, of course, I want my nursing books because it's very important.

LEE: This program was launched last year in the wake of the devastating flooding in Louisiana. Experts were also sent to South Carolina following Hurricane Matthew.

REEVES: We want to say, you know, we can salvage your grandmother's quilt. We can help you salvage these photos of your high school graduation, your high school diploma. You know, we have someone that came in with a generational Bible that was passed down in their family. We can help you salvage these things.

LEE: If you kept them. Diane Tinsley didn't know they could be salvaged.

DIANE TINSLEY: When I went over there to wait for the line, I started crying thinking of all the pictures that I had just thrown in the trash.

LEE: She says she also threw away her thick family Bible and most of her 357 record albums.

TINSLEY: I should have researched it, but at the time, you're not thinking. I mean, I walked around in a daze. You know, you're just not thinking. You want that out of your house, and so you just start throwing everything away.

LEE: Today, she's asking Laura Manaker, normally at the National Portrait Gallery in D.C., how to save her flood-damaged collectible prints.

TINSLEY: They all are stuck together. You know, there was probably about 35, 40 prints maybe.

LEE: For some items, it may be a relatively simple fix.

LAURA MANAKER: If you want to kind of keep them from curling, you could maybe put just like small weights just on the corners.

TINSLEY: OK.

LEE: For other things, Manaker says it might be more trouble than it's worth.

MANAKER: There are things that, you know, you might not be able to save, but we are trying to let people know that all is not lost. You don't have to throw out, you know, everything.

LEE: FEMA and the Smithsonian say they're considering sending teams to Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, but so far, the logistics are too complicated. Right now, people in Puerto Rico are dealing with getting their basic needs met. For NPR News, I'm Allison Lee in Beaumont, Texas.

(SOUNDBITE OF JIM VANCLEVE'S "FALL CREEK FALLS")

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