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Here's how to protect your precious photos and home movies from flood damage

Amid floods, here's what to do with your water-damaged photos
Amid floods, here's what to do with your water-damaged photos 02:54

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Minnesotans and other Midwesterners hardest hit by flooding have been forced to move everything that's still dry out of their homes. 

"We're just trying to get anything off the top level that we can," said Jeremy Frey of Spencer, Iowa. "Pictures, personal stuff, clothes. Whatever we can get out of there for now."

Using canoes, they sloshed through the waters with their belongings, including family photos and videos.

"They're coming to me in tears," said Chris Moen, co-owner of Archiving Life Media.

Moen and his wife Michelle help people restore memories damaged by flooding and other disasters. It really hit home after Michelle's sister's home burned down in a 2007 California wildfire.

"They lost all of their photos, of all the baby pictures, of their kids, their wedding, everything," she said.

Saving memories and preserving them is their business. Chris Moen says start by inspecting your flood-damaged photos.

"The first step would be to look and see if first off there's any smearing or anything. If there's smearing, we can't really fix that. AI is good but it's not that great yet," he said.

If the photo is muddy, it's usually safe to rinse it with clean water, but stop if the ink bleeds. Then get to air drying them as fast as you can, and keep them out of the sun. Once that's done, it's time to digitize and reprint.

The Moens have also saved their share of photo negatives. A photographer turned to them after the 2015 flooding in Shakopee.  


"She had a box of negatives, and that's what Michelle's working on there. And there was many that were water damaged," he said. "And we went through and her insurance company paid for that."

For 8mm, VHS and other tape formats, turn to your nose.

"If the film starts to smell like a little bit of vinegar, that means the film is turning and we want to get that transferred right away," he said.

Video transfer is a delicate, time-consuming process.

"It's hands-on, white gloves, and we try and do our best to just go through and spool and respool, and that's what we have to do to make these things work," he said.

Usually, no one wants to remember the unfortunate moments in their lives. But the desire to endlessly relive the happy times and life-defining events is a yearning we all share. It's that understanding that helps the Moens keep their focus on keeping the past perfect. 

"Those treasured memories, even if you're not in a flood or anything, get them transferred now," he said.

The Moens recommend storing photos, whether loose or in albums, in cardboard or shoe boxes. But keep them away from moisture, preferably upstairs on a shelf.

Videos can be stored in sealed storage bins.

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