Courtesy Paul Schattenberg, Texas A&M AgriLife
With the extent and severity of recent rains throughout the southeastern part of the state, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts are again reminding Texans their agency provides important information on how to recover from a flood.
“After a flood there are a number of things you can do to protect your family’s health and well-being and restore your property,” said Dr. Joyce Cavanagh, AgriLife Extension specialist in family development and resource management, College Station.
Cavanagh said the Texas Extension Disaster Education Network, Texas EDEN, website at http://texashelp.tamu.edu provides information on cleaning and drying flood-damaged homes, emergency food and water supplies, post-flooding safety precautions and other topics. It also has a number of instructional videos on handling flood recovery.
Additional information can be found at the Texas AgriLife Extension Bookstore at http://bit.ly/2xrIB9f. This site contains many free materials that can be downloaded and printed, including flood recovery safety tips, controlling mold, basic first aid, caring for important papers and post-disaster considerations for older adults.
Cavanagh said those with storm losses who live in areas covered by the Federal Disaster Declaration can register with the Federal Emergency Management Administration by calling 800-621-FEMA or going online to http://www.DisasterAssistance.gov.
“Online registration is the fastest way to register,” she said. “FEMA can cover rental costs, home repairs and other disaster-related expenses. And the agency can also refer those affected to other agencies providing assistance, such as the American Red Cross. In addition, the U.S. Small Business Administration provides low-interest disaster loans to homeowners, renters and businesses.”
More information can be found on the SBA website at http://www.sba.gov/disaster or by calling the agency’s Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955.
Cavanagh suggested homeowners and renters with insurance fill out a FEMA application and SBA loan application while waiting on a decision from their insurer as it will save time.
Dr. Andy Vestal, AgriLife Extension emergency management specialist, College Station, said safety is paramount when returning to affected areas.
“Listen to local news or a NOAA Weather Radio for updated information and don’t return home until authorities say it’s safe,” Vestal advised. “Be mindful that snakes and harmful insects may have sought refuge in and around your home. If you’re reentering your home or business, wear protective clothing, including a hat or cap, long sleeves, long pants, and rubber gloves and boots.”
He suggested throwing out items that can’t be cleaned or disinfected, including rugs, carpeting, mattresses, cushions and pillows.
“Those returning should also be wary of possible structural or electrical damage and possible damage to gas lines, as well as possible contamination from flood water,” he said. “If any appliances were flooded, don’t use them until they’ve been checked to make sure they’re safe.”
He said an important initial step is to dry the home to reduce hazards and the damage they cause.
“Open flooded walls, even if they appear undamaged, and remove water from the home as soon as possible,” he said. “Ventilate the house by opening doors and windows, and facilitate the drying by using dehumidifiers and fans. Cross-ventilate by placing a fan in a window or on the floor. Discard any flooded drywall or wet, fibrous insulation. And leave walls open until they have thoroughly dried. Drying time could be a few weeks to a month, depending on weather conditions, moisture content and other variables.”
Cavanagh said homeowners should not take a chance with potentially contaminated water.
“You should also dispose of any food or medicine that has been or may have been in contact with flood waters or mud,” she said. “You’ll also want to have any damages to sewage systems repaired as soon as possible to avoid further risk to your or your family’s health.”
She also recommended taking pictures or video — inside and out — of the damage to the home and its contents for insurance purposes.
“Unfortunately, most insurance companies will not pay for additional damage done after a disaster, so homeowners are responsible for making temporary repairs to keep further damage from occurring,” Cavanagh said.
Vestal said mold is another potential health hazard related to flooding.
“There are steps you can take to prevent mold growth,” he said “These include disposing of waterlogged, unsalvageable items, cleaning and drying salvageable wet items as soon as possible, and keeping wet areas well ventilated. You can use air conditioning and fans to help dry out damp items. And if you see or smell mold, clean the area with a solution of 1 cup household liquid bleach to 1 gallon of water as a short-term remediation.”
The key to preventing mold growth is to clean, disinfect and dry out the damaged area, Vestal explained. If the problem persists, contact a respectable service that specializes in mold remediation.
Businesses offering mold services must be licensed and/or registered with the state of Texas. For more information, go to https://www.dshs.texas.gov/mold/forms.shtm#info. A list of licensed mold remediation professionals in Texas can be found at http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/mold/profession.shtm.
Vestal also noted mosquito populations often explode after a flood, and the diseases they carry constitute yet another health risk.
“Dump or drain water to eliminate egg laying sites, eliminating any place where water can collect and be retained, especially if there’s organic matter such as soil or leaves,” he said. “If the water can’t be dumped or drained, use a larvicide.
“A fogger may also be useful for temporary relief, but it’s best to apply a DEET-based repellent onto your skin. And the same long sleeves, long pants and protective coverings you should wear during debris removal and home drying and cleaning will also help shield you from mosquitoes.”
Vestal said flood recovery can be a slow and frustrating process that requires great patience and perseverance.
“That’s why it’s also extremely important those people affected by the storm take time to take care of themselves as well,” he said.