Oct. 30, 2012 -- If you’re trying to clean up a house flooded by Hurricane Sandy, be aware that you’re in a race against mold and bacteria, which can grow quickly in damp environments.
Mold is especially dangerous for people with breathing problems caused by allergies or asthma. But high levels of mold can also cause problems for people who are relatively healthy. Symptoms of mold exposure include wheezing, shortness of breath, sore throats, flu-like aches and pains, and fatigue.
Surviving Superstorm Sandy
Safety tips for those facing power outages, flooding and other issues from Superstorm Sandy.
Mold isn’t the only threat from flooding. Bacteria may also be a problem if your house was soaked by sewage. Bacteria can cause dangerous gastrointestinal and skin infections.
That’s why it’s important to stop these pathogens before they take hold of your home.
“You’ve really got 24 to 36 hours to work with,” says Rebecca Morley, executive director of the National Center for Healthy Housing, a nonprofit organization that wrote a guide to help residents clean up flooded homes after Hurricane Katrina.
The good news is that the faster you act, the more you may be able to save.
DIY Cleanup? Or Call a Pro?
The first thing to do is to pump out or soak up any standing water. But be careful: If you’ve got several feet of water in a basement, where fuse boxes and other electrical circuitry may be submerged, have emergency workers clear the space before you get to work.
If you have a lot of water in the house, Morley, who has been through two floods herself, says hiring help can be a good investment.
“I had water up to my ankles. My carpet was floating when I got home,” Morley says. “These restoration companies have all the heavy equipment that’s needed to dry out a place quickly. They bring in their big fans, their big dehumidifiers.”
You might also need a professional if your house was flooded with sewage, which has an unmistakable smell. Sewage is hazardous and best handled by someone who’s trained.
Start hauling wet things, especially plush items like pillows, upholstered furniture, or curtains out of the house to a place like the garage or the driveway where they can dry. “They are going to be the more challenging things to salvage,” Morley says.
Use a shop vac or wet vac to suck water out of soggy carpets.
Fans can help get air moving in enclosed spaces, but they may not be enough.
Consider renting or buying a dehumidifier to keep moisture levels low in the air in rooms you’re trying to dry. Basements and big areas may require larger, commercial-sized machines. “You want to get as much air movement as possible over the wet areas,” says Arthur Lau, a certified microbial investigator for Microecologies, a national restoration and cleanup company.
Remove baseboards and moldings from flooded walls, especially if the walls are made of sheetrock. “Baseboards really prevent the lower few inches of wet walls from drying out, no matter how much air you put on it,” Lau says.
Cut small openings along the bases of walls to let air into the wall to dry the back as well as the front of the sheetrock. “The paper covering on sheetrock is on the front and back sides. So you may see nothing on the room-side surface, but you don’t know what’s happening on the backside,” Lau says.