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Returning to flooded home?

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE, MD | June 18, 2001

As people began returning home this week, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Joe Allbaugh cautioned them to be careful when cleaning up their flood-damaged homes.

"While it's good to be home and to begin cleaning up, it's vital to know what risks are posed in a flood-damaged home," he said.

Severe storms and torrential rains flooded counties from Texas in the south to New Jersey along the northeast coast.

Allbaugh recommended residents assume anything touched by floodwater is

contaminated. Mud left by floodwater can contain chemicals ranging from

garden pesticide to propane gas to household cleaners. In addition, homes

with flood damage may have damp areas where molds, mildews and other

fungal organisms thrive. Electrical shock and a possibility of injury from

hidden sharp objects also pose danger.

FEMA warned there is a danger of structural instability as well. Before going

inside their homes, residents should check to make sure porch roofs and

overhangs still have all their supports. If residents see damage, a building

inspector or contractor should check the building before anyone enters.

If residents suspect a gas leak or smell gas, they should leave home

immediately and call the gas company.

In addition, FEMA warned residents should enter their home carefully. If the

door sticks at the top, it could mean the ceiling is ready to fall. If the door

must be forced open, residents should wait outside the doorway in case

debris falls. Once inside, dwellers should check the ceiling for signs of sagging.

Wind, rain, or deep flooding may wet plaster or wallboard, which is very

heavy and dangerous if it falls.

Other post-flood tips for those returning to their homes include:

-- Make sure the electricity is turned off. Unplug appliances and lamps,

remove light bulbs and remove the cover plates of wall switches and outlets

that got wet. If local building inspection code allows wiring to be disconnected

from switches and outlets, do so and throw away the switches and outlets.

-- A combination of household bleach and soap or detergent can be used to

wash down walls, floors and other mold-contaminated areas. This will

eliminate fungal problems and their inherent dangers. Follow directions on

containers and take particularly note of warnings.

-- Remove as much mud and debris as possible. Plan to disinfect the basement

at a later date. Check the water system for leaks, then hose down the inside

of the house and its contents. It's best to use an attachment that sprays soap

to wash and rinse the walls, floors, furniture, sockets, electrical boxes, and

other major items that got muddy.

-- Remove heating and cooling registers and ducts, then hose the ducts to

prevent contamination from blowing through the ducts at a later date. After

hosing duct work, wash with a disinfectant or sanitizer. If ducts are in slab or

otherwise inaccessible, have them cleaned professionally.

-- Don't let floodwater sit for long. Use a mop, squeegee or wet/dry vacuum

cleaner to remove standing water.

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