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We recently went through a hurricane and our server room became flooded. Hooray for insurance. Anyway, I need to save as much data off one of the hard drives as possible. Yes, it was submerged for the better part of two days.

Do I need to open the drive and make sure it's flood-water free? Should I remove the board on bottom and dry out the foam? What all do I need.

Any suggestions would be helpful.

Thanks in advance!

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I was hoping for a little more DIY approach, but everyone seems to think a specialist is the way to go. Thanks for all the answers. –  Critologist Sep 4 '10 at 1:13
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DIY would be cool if: A.) The data you want to recover has no value and the experience would be a learning one. B.) You get paid for your time regardless of recovery success., or C.) You already work for a data recovery shop. Either way +1 for your question. Hope I never have to deal with that. –  jscott Sep 4 '10 at 1:43
    
@jscott: It's more of a money kind of thing, but it will be a learning experience if I decide not to send it off. –  Critologist Sep 4 '10 at 2:38
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At the very least, there some really strong magnets inside a disk enclosure. Sticking these on the fridge at work is highly recommended. –  jscott Sep 4 '10 at 10:39

4 Answers 4

up vote 21 down vote accepted

http://www.storagesearch.com/disklabs-art3-floods.html

Do NOT attempt to recover the data yourself. This will do more damage to your data and makes it more difficult to recover when it eventually gets to a data recovery specialist.

When hard disk drives get wet, the 'heads' can get stuck to the platters. When the hard drive is powered up in this state the disk tries to spin up and the heads literally get ripped off causing damage to the platters - the place where all the data is stored. 2 - Do NOT DRY the hard disk drive out. Although this may seem paradoxical - this will nearly always destroy the platter of the hard disk thus making your data irretrievable.

When hard disk drives get wet then dry out, there is nearly always a residue of contaminant left on the platters and heads. Any residue (including a piece of dust), causes physical degradation of the hard disk's platters and loses more data. 3 - DO keep the hard disk WET. Ideally, keep the hard disk drive in a sealed container to keep the hard disk drive wet. This stops the hard disk drive corroding and allows the technical staff at the recovery company to clean and dry the platters correctly with minimum damage to the platter surfaces.

Normally, Disklabs Data Recovery charges a premium for water damaged hard disk drives, however, this additional charge for the cleaning and drying out of the hard disk drive has been waivered for the victims of the latest flooding events.

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superuser.com/questions/100332/… quotes similar advice from a different data recovery company. –  Gilles Sep 4 '10 at 0:05
    
I don't know what to say about residue. Don't all drives have a filter that stops dust from entering the case? –  Cristian Ciupitu Sep 4 '10 at 0:29
    
@Cristian I'm guessing those filters don't keep out stuff below a certain size in microns. Once dissolved in water, lot of that crap could get in. As the water evaporates, the dissolved solids would be left behind. –  jscott Sep 4 '10 at 1:48

If you need as much as possible, take it to a specialist.

The inside needs to be free of water and debris (even dust). It might need to be opened in order to dry out the platters. If that's the case, you shouldn't be doing it. Drives need to be opened inside a cleanroom. Dust on the platters is very bad news.

If you don't have the budget for a real data recovery solution, that's fine. Understand that anything you do may limit or destroy the chances of a professional being able to get data off of the drive. If you're willing to take that chance then go ahead and replace the circuit board with a new one off a drive of the same make and model. While you're replacing it, make sure everything is dried off. Say a little prayer, plug it in, and see what it comes up with.

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Putting the hard drive in an airtight container with uncooked rice should help to absorb the moisture.

Edit: further enlightenment suggest this could be risky because of the residue left by contaminants in the water. Therefore, there are a few options:

  • hand the drive over to a specialist
  • wash it with clean water before dying it
  • dry the drive as it is
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On top of the preservation-advice by Josh, do keep in mind data recovery companies will usually charge per file/byte and time spent.

If you can clearly map out what files you absolutely need and how the disks were structured (raid, filesystems, ..) you can keep the costs down.

Squeeze everything you can out of your backups and see what data can be easily reconstructed. Consult with the business people to see how much what specific data is worth, they may have a very different perspective than us technical people. (also: get any "don't need this data" in writing!)

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