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Cover image: AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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“Service to others deepens and sweetens this life while we are preparing to live in a better world. It is by serving that we learn to serve. When we are engaged in the service of our fellowmen, not only do our deeds assist them, but we put our own problems in a fresher perspective. When we concern ourselves more with others, there is less time to be concerned with ourselves! In the midst of the miracle of serving, there is the promise of Jesus that by losing ourselves, we find ourselves!” – Spencer W. Kimball, “President Kimball Speaks Out on Service to Others,” New Era, Mar 1981, 47
As floodwaters recede in Texas we look toward hurricane season and wonder if we will see more such as Harvey. Now is a good time to be better informed about the huge task of clean up that follows flooding. Floods can and do happen everywhere from time-to-time, so nobody is immune to that risk. Floodwater is both dangerous and destructive even after the initial threat has passed. Starting clean up immediately is the key to preserving health and saving property.
When homes flood, the water can wreak havoc on the structure of your home, your personal belongings, and your health. After a flood, cleaning up is a long and hard process, but if it is begun immediately many family treasures can be saved.
As with every disaster, whether it be hurricanes, floods, fire, earthquakes, or tornadoes, your first response should be to call your insurance agent and begin taking lots and lots of pictures. Notify your insurance company that you are beginning clean up and taking photos. If you wait for your agent to show up to document damage it may be too late to save some of your most valued possessions. So begin clean up, but never before taking lots of pictures. Take photos constantly during the process. Document everything and do not throw anything away or demolish anything, just work to salvage and save.
As you begin, take precautions to protect yourself and all those who may be helping. Be sure everyone wears gloves, boots, goggles and masks. Masks become increasingly important as days pass and mold grows. Items which are wet quickly develop potentially deadly molds and fungus. You should have N95 medical masks in your 72 hour kits. Use them. They will protect against bacteria and other small spores that an ordinary mask from a home improvement center will not. Masks can be purchased at pharmacy stores.
Boots are important if there is still standing water as there will be rodens, snakes, bugs, fish and if you are in the south even gators. Never wear open toed shoes when working after a disaster even if there is no standing water.
Long sleeves, long pants and hats are also a good idea to remain safe.
One of the greatest health risks following a flooding emergency comes from standing water. Standing water is not only a breeding ground for microorganisms but also mosquitoes. bacteria, viruses, and molds which grow quickly on wet and damp items. These can become airborne and inhaled, putting everyone at risk for lung diseases and complications for those with asthma and other respiratory ailments.
In hot weather, try to stay cool by taking breaks in shaded areas or in cool rooms, drink water and nonalcoholic fluids often, do not drink coffee as it will dehydrate your body, and wearing light and loose-fitting clothing. Do outdoor activities during cooler hours of the day. During the hottest hours sit in a shaded area and work on an inventory or just rest.
Now that you are properly clothed and ready to work you can begin:
- Turn off electrical power at the main breaker even if you have no power. You don’t want it coming back on while you are working and unprepared to deal with it. Do not connect generators to your home’s electrical circuits without the approved, automatic-interrupt devices. If a generator is on line when electrical service is restored, it can become a major fire hazard and it may endanger line workers helping to restore power in your area.
- If mold and mildew have already developed, brush off items outdoors to prevent scattering spores in the house.
- Shovel out as much mud as possible, then use a garden hose to wash away any remaining. Be sure to have someone assigned to sweep the water out of the house as you do this. For water you may also want to use a shop vacuum and just suck up the water and empty outside several feet from your home.
- Clean and disinfect every surface. Scrub surfaces using a heavy-duty disinfecting cleaner. The key here is to scrub making sure you get the cleaner into the small crevices. Be sure the product you use is designed to kill germs. If you do not have access to a commercial product use a bleach mixture. Combine 1/4 cup bleach with 1 gallon of cool water. For smaller jobs or if you have a smaller bucket use1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 quart of cool water. It is vital that you throughly dry all surfaces after they have been treated. Use small fans and open all the doors and windows to circulate air.
To clean glass, porcelain, china, plastic dinnerware and enamelware soak for 10 minutes in a disinfecting solution. Air-dry dishes. Do not towel dry. These items are safe to place outside to dry.
Disinfect silverware, metal utensils, pots and pans, and all other metal items by boiling in water for 10 minutes. Bleach should not be used because it reacts with many metals and causes them to darken. Again, air dry.
Cupboards and counters need to be cleaned and rinsed with a disinfecting solution before placing anything back in the cupboards. Again it is very important that the walls, doors and shelves all be completely dry. This may take a few days depending on weather conditions.
Take furniture, bedding and clothing outside to dry as soon as possible. When possible, place furniture in a shaded area to help prevent warping of the wood and fading of fabrics. If you cannot start right away to wash clothing and bedding, hang it on a clothes line or in trees to dry. Better yet, see if friends outside the flood zone would take over washing and drying these items as a service to you. Some who cannot stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you, may be able to help in this way. Since the ground will undoubtedly be damp, do not lay items on the ground to dry.
Mattresses should be thrown away. Unfortunately there is no safe way to disinfect a mattress. Do not take any chances.
Upholstered furniture is also very difficult to properly disinfect. Have them cleaned by someone specializing in this type of clean up.
Wood veneer furniture will usually not survive a flood well. Unless an item has great sentimental value it is probably not worth trying to restore. Solid wood furniture, however, can usually be restored if it is dried out slowly and immediately.
Soft toys, stuffed animals and pillows should also be thrown away.
Vacuum floors, ceilings and walls to remove mildew, then wash with disinfectant. Always wear an N95 mask when doing this.
Sheetrock acts like a sponge when wet. Remove all wallboard, plaster and paneling that is wet. If soaked by contaminated floodwater, it can be a permanent health hazard.
Plaster and paneling can often be saved, but air must be circulated in the wall cavities to dry the studs and sills which may have soaked up water. For this reason remove paneling and sheetrock so all wet or damp insulation can be removed even if the sheet rock is not wet.
There are many types of insulation. The three types are Styrofoam, fiberglass batts and cellulose. Styrofoam may only need to be hosed off but all the sheet rock may need to be removed to accomplish that. Fiberglass batts should be thrown out if muddy and mold has begun to form. They may be reused if dried thoroughly but if in doubt throw it out. Loose or blown cellulose should be replaced since it holds water for a long time.
Wet wallpaper should be removed. Washable wallpaper should be cleaned with a mild soap or detergent. As with all cleaning you should begin at the ceiling and work down to the floor.
The electrical system must be shut off , repaired and inspected by an electrician before it can be turned back on. Wiring must be completely dried out. All switches and outlets that have been exposed to water may contain mud and debris. They should be carefully inspected. Remember to turn off the electricity at the main breaker before trying to clean any electrical wires or outlets (actually, the electrical main should have been shut off prior to anyone entering a flooded structure).
Disinfect air ducts as they will grow mold and distribute it throughout your home when your unit is turned back on. Appliances may hold muddy deposits and need to be cleaned and serviced. Running equipment before it is properly cleaned could permanently damage the appliance. Appliances should be cleaned by a professional. Determine the cost to have them cleaned and the cost to replace. In some cases it is just better and even cheaper to throw them away. Never attempt to use an appliance that has not been cleaned as it may cause an electrical shock or even electrocution.
If your basement is full or nearly full of water, pump out just 2 or 3 feet of water each day. Draining the basement too quickly can cause the walls to collapse if the pressure changes too rapidly.
Wooden sub flooring should be exposed as soon as possible. Drying them completely may take several weeks. Windows and doors should be left open and fans should be used to help the drying process.
Remove, clean and dry carpets and rugs as quickly as possible. If the carpet was under water more than a day, or if the water was contaminated, it should be thrown away. Carpets should be cleaned with a disinfectant appropriate for carpet cleaning. Follow all directions and dry completely. Carpet padding should be thrown away.
To restore wood floors, remove rugs and other floor coverings to allow the floor to dry more quickly. Mop up any remaining water. Wooden floors should be dried gradually as drying too quickly may cause cracking or splitting. Do not attempt to straighten warped or buckled wood floors until they have dried completely. Removing hardwood floor boards every few feet will help prevent buckling of the floor. Once the floor is completely dry and cleaned, the boards can be replaced. Hardwood floors can be refinished, manufactured wood floors cannot.
Ceramic tile or terrazzo laid on a wood sub-floor will need to be removed, cleaned and reinstalled when the sub flooring is dry. If your tile is old and cannot be matched, it may not be worth the time or effort to try to save the tiles, unless you have a smaller room that needs new flooring for which the tile can be used. It is inevitable that some of the tiles will break as you try to remove them. Clean tile can be reinstalled after the sub flooring is dry.
If sheet vinyl has bulged, carefully remove the entire sheet to allow the sub-flooring to dry completely.
It is very important to remember that older linoleum contains asbestos and needs to be professionally removed. Asbestos was used until the early 1980s. When in doubt, have a professional check it out.
Check your roof for damage and leaks. You don’t want a rain storm to do further damage, especially if your flooding was caused by a hurricane. It is important to clear all gutters and down spouts. This is vital as insurance companies will not cover damage that they feel could have been prevented. If there is a hole or leaking in the roof tarp it and take photos so you can prove you tried to minimize damage and the main damage occurred due to the original storm.
Flooding of a septic or private sewage system can be hazardous. Have your septic system checked before using your drains or bathroom. If you are on a private community system, check with the person in charge of maintaining the system before using your water or flushing a toilet. If there has been a backflow of sewage into your house, wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, and goggles during cleanup of the affected area.
Wash clothes contaminated with flood or sewage water in hot water and detergent. Run them through a wash cycle twice. If there is one available, a laundromat is a good place to do this as you will have many loads to clean and they will be large. Wash all the clothing you wore while cleaning up in the same way. They should be considered contaminated. Do not wash contaminated and uncontaminated clothing in the same load.
Photographs, books and important papers can often be salvaged. They should be gently rinsed off in a bucket of clean water. Carefully separate papers and photos, and rinse. Never use running water to clean photos and papers. Never rub the surface, simply swish the item through the water. Do not rub to dry them, air dry. More detailed instructions in our next article so watch for that.
Never use generators, pressure washers, or other gasoline, propane, natural gas, or charcoal-burning devices inside your home, basement, garage, or camper—or even outside ne fireear an open window, door, or vent. Carbon monoxide—an odorless, colorless gas from these sources that can cause sudden illness and death—can build up indoors and poison the people and animals inside.
Call the fire department to deal with hazardous materials.
Cleaning up is never a pleasant experience. For those who live near the victims of flooding, lend a hand. Offer to take home photos and lay them out in your home. Offer to wash clothing. Take cleaning supplies, gloves, N95 mask, garbage bags, portable tables for drying and sorting, portable shelter, and even lawn chairs to those working. A clean place to sit down is always appreciated. If you are able, lend a hand with the physical work.
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Mike GriffithSeptember 5, 2017
I think there is also something to be said for the point that perhaps people need to consider *not* rebuilding in these areas that have been repeatedly hit by floods and hurricanes for hundreds of years. If you know that Area X is going to incur many billions of dollars in damage every 5-10-15 years from natural disasters, perhaps it is time consider rebuilding farther inland and/or in a different area, so that we don't have to keep dealing with such catastrophic losses again and again.