Floods damage thousands of homes and properties each year in the United States alone. Recently, nature reminded us who is in charge once again when historic flooding from Hurricane Florence inundated large parts of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, causing billions of dollars in damage and killing dozens of people.
However, surviving the initial surge of water is just one of many difficult challenges that face people in flood-affected areas. Because mold can form within 48 hours, families that return to their waterlogged homes must race against the clock to save as many possessions as possible. Recovering after a flood is a daunting process, which is why it’s important to avoid additional risks by taking the following critical steps.
When inspecting a flood-damaged property, always wear high rubber boots or waders to protect yourself against electric shocks caused by damaged electrical wiring and equipment. Any water in a flood-affected area will likely be contaminated by sewage and household chemicals, so it’s important that it doesn’t come in contact with your skin.
Resist the temptation to immediately go through your possessions and look for anything that could be salvaged. Instead, take pictures to fully document the damage and contact your property insurer and FEMA as soon as possible. The less time you take before filing a claim, the sooner it will be resolved. When taking pictures, try to show the height or depth of damage using tape measures and make sure to include serial numbers of major appliances and equipment.
It’s important to realize very early on that you most likely won’t be able to save all your belongings. With only 48 hours before mold starts to form, you should start with the things that are most important to you, be it for monetary or sentimental reasons.
“We always hear about dollar-amount damages, but often the losses that affect us the most are the ones to which a dollar amount cannot be assigned,” says Lori Foley, an emergency management specialist in the Readiness Branch of FEMA’s Office of Environmental Planning and Historic Preservation.
After you’ve saved your most important belongings, you should concentrate your efforts on mitigating mold damage. The more time mold has to grow, the higher the chance that the water-soaked walls and insulation will have to be removed.
Start by pumping out water using a capable subversive pump, but do so gradually to avoid structural damage. Create indoor airflow by opening all your windows, and use portable air conditioners and dehumidifiers if it’s too hot and humid for the property to dry naturally.
Keep in mind that water levels may rise and fall unpredictably after flooding. To prevent water from spreading to other parts of your property, use modern sandbag alternatives, which are durable, come in a variety of sizes, are reusable, and can be filled when needed and emptied once used. It’s also a good idea to install water-leak detectors near major water pipes and board all windows until you feel that law enforcement has the area under control.
Damp objects and items that cannot be dealt with immediately should be put in open, unsealed boxes or bags. If you can’t attend to items within 48 hours, you can put photos, papers, books, and textiles in the freezer and clean them later.
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