Cleaning Up After A Hurricane & Flooding

Florence is currently causing a lot of devastation, but soon the hurricane and flooding will pass, and we will be left with clean up concerns. Clean up is a big process that needs to be done safely, effectively, and with as little workload as necessary so you can get on with your life.

Standing stagnant water or water

Drainage is important. Creating drainage and getting rid of standing water is a worthy goal. As much as I hate to say it, sometimes drilling a 1/2 hole in the floor of a building to drain water is advisable. You can plug it up later, and it is far better than increasing the saturation time a structure has to experience. Just make sure power is turned off and try to avoid any wires or other internal systems. With a floor, this should be relatively easy.

Using buckets to dunk water out is another option, but if you have water flowing in to replace it, you may not get very far. Try to locate the inflow, divert it, and then drain the best way you can.

Always wear the right protective gear

When cleaning up after any disaster, wearing the right gear to protect your health is essential. Don’t risk it for a few dollars and a little bit of extra comfort. I have to wear a respirator often in my line of work, and I know it is not a pleasant experience. Here are a few items to have on hand during clean up.

Waterproof, thick gloves

Some thick gloves may contain latex so use caution if you or someone in your home has an allergy to it. Gloves that go up to the elbow are nice when combined with other protective gear like a rain coat or suit.

Respirator with an appropriate rating.

Some disposable dust masks are not up to the job of filtering out some contamination.  I recommend using N95 masks like these. They are inexpensive and disposable.

Rubber boots

Budget priced rubber boots that you are not going to be worried about messing up can offer protection, and some are inexpensive enough that you can just toss them afterward if you have to go through a long or very messy cleanup period.  I recommend getting some that go to your knees so that you can wade through a little water without getting it on your skin.

Rubber boots are easy to pull off and on as well, so you don’t track up spaces that have been cleaned or that you are living in.

Garbage and Debris

This is one of the yuckiest parts of flooding in my memory. People are not so great at keeping things tidy. Some areas are worse than others. In the town I grew up in it seemed like no one had thrown any trash in the landfill but rather waited for the river to flood and cleanse the land of every nasty bit they had accumulated for the last four months. Sorry for the rant but I had never seen so much pure garbage floating in the streets.

I feel sorry for any of you that are dealing with this. My best advice is to wear protective gloves and watch out for sharp objects. Heavy duty contractor style trash bags are advisable because they will resist tearing even when picking up sharp plastic or glass. Sharp broken plastic seems to be a major problem during flooding now since so many things are made of it. If mud and other sediment have dried, you may also want a dust mask. Again,  I like the N-95 masks that are inexpensive and individually packed, so you always know you are getting a good one rather than an old respirator that has cartridges that have seen better days.

Bleach is great when used correctly and for some major messes.

Don’t attempt to clean up too soon.

Stay out of flooded and wrecked areas until it is safe to go back and it is worthwhile to clean. If another event is right behind the first one, then you might do a lot of clean up for little or nothing. It can be very hard to stay away from your home and overwhelmingly tempting to go back when you are worried, in unfamiliar surroundings, or have kids that are having a hard time dealing with the situation.

Be considerate if other people’s property floats on to yours.

Emotions can run high during a disaster. If you come back and find the guy down the street’s 16 ft fishing skiff in your yard remember that there is a good chance he tied it down well and took precautions. No matter how well someone tries to secure something during a flood, they cannot plan for everything. Try to let neighbors know if you recognize something that is theirs. People that are going through a disaster like a hurricane or a flood have lost enough and will probably be quite glad to get back anything usable or valuable.

Contact your insurance provider as soon as possible if you have proper coverage.

Unfortunately, a lot of people in hurricane and flood prone areas cannot get economical coverage or are outright denied coverage. However, any of you that do have coverage of any sort should file ASAP. Cleaning and other recovery efforts may be something you don’t have to deal with after all. You may also be able to get FEMA assistance that could cover the cost of housing your family during and after a storm.

Get everyone in the family involved

If you have a family size household, then try to get everyone involved in the effort. Depending on the resources at hand you may find ways to help encourage good morale. This could be as simple as providing some favorite comfort foods.

Now is not the time to let anyone slack. It is times like these that families and friends need to stick together and work together to pull through a crisis. While it might not be fun, times like these when families can renew bonds and realize the value each person has. Assign tasks based on age and ability and clean up will go a lot smoother and faster!

Bonuses and incentives are another powerful tools. It doesn’t have to be cash (although what kid or teen doesn’t like extra spending money?) but getting a privilege granted.

Consider your neighbors and community

If you live in a neighborhood or small community, there may be things that you share that are dirty or damaged. Now is a time to pitch in and everyone help those around them. No act is too small. The important thing is doing what you can. Helping can be as simple as cooking a hot meal for the family next door, shoveling some garbage in bags, or watching kids while parents pick up.

Those that live on private roads and have experienced washouts may want to organize efforts to get roads in order again. This could mean making sure everyone fills out the right forms on time for aid if there is any help available, hosting a meeting to plan what to do, volunteering time or machinery time to help get things in order, etc. Some people have no interest in working with others on this type of thing, but it is worth a try. Hopefully, you live on a road with more cooperative people than some of us. Working together is always best if you can!

Mold

I think a lot of mold allergies are out there, but I also think the dangers and the occurrence of truly deadly molds is rarer than what the hype would have one believe. If you see evidence of mold, then bleach or other strong cleaners may take care of it. Getting the moisture level under control in your home is a big part of getting mold under control, but you need to kill it off. Major issues often involve professionals, but if you are willing to take the time and energy, a lot of even very large mold issues can be dealt with safely. Of course, if you or anyone in your family has severe allergies, then you may need to just leave it to a pro.

Sadly, sometimes there is not enough cleaning in the world to save some structures.

There is a point when something is a total loss. Cleaning some possessions may not be feasible. You may need to consider where and when it is better to toss and move on so you can concentrate your clean up energy where it is needed the most.

Paper usually molds after a flood if it experienced any moisture. That is my personal experience. If you have drywall and wallpaper, then it is probably going to have to be replaced if it gets soaked for very long.

Deceased animals

Look I know it is gross to think about, but water floats stuff in. There are also situations where animals or even people try to seek refuge during a storm. Although it is highly unlikely you come home to find a deceased person, the chances of finding an animal are much higher. If it were me, I would just tough it out and throw it in a trash bag as a first step if it would fit and I lived in a town where digging a hole and burying is not an option. If you are burying, a bag of quicklime on top and then a dirt covering will hasten decomposition. Again this is not something to do in town but on your own place outside of a major jurisdiction.  it is your own business.

Anything large or within town you will need to contact your local disaster relief center and see what can be done. Remember that you are probably one of many people dealing with the same thing. Those that live in industrial farming areas will be reached out to my local clean up efforts. With 9 million pigs in the Carolinas, this type of thing is something that has been dealt with before.

Watch our for live animals like venomous snakes and alligators.

Flooding can cause snakes and alligators to make their way into places they normally would never venture. Snakes that have been displaced from where they want to be can be particularly temperamental. Homes need to be thoroughly checked for dangerous and/or scared wildlife.

Cleaning supply consideration in a disaster zone

There may be organizations handing out some supplies to those that need it. If you can afford to get your supplies, then that means others that are needier can use the charity supplies. If supplies are disrupted, then you may have to choose some supplies you don’t normally use or use much harsher and concentrated cleaners. Here are some items that are very versatile and easy to find that can aid a lot in the clean up.

Dawn Concentrated Dish Soap

There is nothing like the concentrated version of Dawn, and it comes in huge containers at a low cost. This is what some relief agencies use for cleaning up oily messes on wildlife, so it is fairly gentle while still being very effective for a wide variety of cleaning tasks. I am pretty sure if all I had was Dawn I could clean up just about anything.

Oxygen cleaner is a gentler but still very effective alternative to bleach.

For some nasty clean up it is hard to beat bleach, but if you can, it is gentler and better overall to use oxygen cleaner. Potassium percarbonate is the main ingredient in oxygen cleaners you are used to buying. If you purchase the pure stuff, it goes further and costs a lot less. It does not take up a lot of space and buying a lot at once means you have a lot on hand and don’t have to pay grocery store prices or buy as often.

Oxygen Cleaner

The Oxy Clean is an easy brand to find but if you need a lot then buy the generic bulk main ingredient. The one I am linking to is about the easiest version to find, but it has a scent component that some people may not want, especially if they tend to be sensitive to that type of thing.

The more you buy, the less you pay per pound. If you use this stuff a lot and don’t want the scented version, buying in bulk makes sense. I use this stuff often since it is an excellent sanitizer for wine production as long as you give it a few for the oxidization to take place before adding any juice. I also use this for bleaching out toilets and sinks that get hard water or mineral deposits.

For hard to clean stains, making a paste of this and allowing it to soak for several hours or even overnight can work wonders on set in stains. It can bleach things out a lot if allowed to set in a concentrated format so use caution and don’t allow it to set too long on some items. For tough stuff around the house thought it is hard to beat. You can also add it to your laundry in place of color safe bleach.

Old rags and clothes for clean up.

Utilize any old clothing you have that is not good enough for charity. I know that most of the time when my clothes reach the point I don’t want to put them on, they are nowhere near good enough for the charity bin!

Old clothing like this makes excellent cleaning rags that you can just throw away. Paper towels just cannot stand up to some cleanup jobs, may not be very available, and they cost money.

Fans and air flow make a big difference!

After any wet weather event, fans and airflow can come in handy when drying things out and cleaning. Big box fans are generally easy to find and help a lot. You can go bigger of course or even possibly rent large commercial fans if you have an equipment rental place in operation near you.

Wind and Impact Damage Concerns

This post has largely concentrated on water damage, but I cannot end this without discussing wind and impact damage to structures. There are a lot of concerns, and your exact situation and structure are unique to you. Here are a few guidelines to approach the situation.

  • Never enter a structure that you are unsure of the stability
  • Be situationally aware. If you are inside and hear sounds that make you nervous about the structural integrity of a building then get out ASAP.
  • Exercise caution around any areas where there may be broken glass. If a window is broken out, then the glass is somewhere. Remember that cuts from dirty things can lead to infection faster than usual during the humid, wet, and warm conditions that are part of hurricane season.
  • Document damage. Most of us have cell phones that have cameras that are perfectly adequate to document damage. If you want any help from your insurance provider or local agencies, having photos will be in your benefit.

Use caution if there are downed power lines.

A power line in the water near your home or on your way to it is cause for concern. If there is current still in the line, then an electrical shock is a major danger. A downed power line can kill a person with ease.  Call your local utility company and report the downed line and do not go near it until you are told it is safe.

Downed trees and debris.

Plenty of us out in the country are used to using chainsaws and work to solve downed tree issues. If you have the ability to do this, then it may be a lot faster than getting other assistance. You may be able to utilize the wood for heat for your home or at least for outdoor cooking too.

Large and dangerous tree situations, especially those that occur in close proximity to neighbors or other structures may require a professional. Trees can be very dangerous to fell if they have a lot of damage or are located close to something fragile like a building or utility lines. If the tree in question is endangering utility lines, then your local utility company may take care of it for you at no cost.

Wells and Water Supply

Anything that you expect potable drinking water to come in contact with should be thoroughly sanitized and cleaned after waters recede or you can drain out around your well head. If water went over your wellhead, then you need to have it sanitized or do it yourself. There are well shock packs that allow you to open up your wellhead and dump it in. You can clean and sanitize your pipes this way too by allowing the “well shock” to get into the pipes and set for a few hours.

If you are not comfortable with doing this yourself, then make sure to contact a local well drilling company or water filter installer. They can chlorinate your whole water system easily and make sure your wellhead is properly sealed. If you want testing done to ensure everything is okay, they can help with that too.

If you are on city or town water supplies, you need to pay attention to boil water advisories or any other alerts concerning water supply. NEVER RISK DRINKING WATER WHILE AN ADVISORY IS ON! A DISASTER IS BAD ENOUGH WITHOUT BECOMING EXTREMELY ILL!

Some people are more sensitive to water contamination than others. My husband and I both grew up drinking untreated water, often from springs or just snowfall runoff even! I remember him telling me about how his parents would have friends over sometimes, and every so often one of them got some stomach issues from the water, but everyone in his family was always fine.

Maybe I am just making an assumption, but it does seem like those that grew up drinking water that was not heavily treated, are more immune to some of the issues that can come from drinking water from different sources. I am saying this so that you realize that it is not worth the risk with all the inexpensive and effective filters out there. Just because you drank creek water as a kid doesn’t guarantee you will be fine in another situation without proper filtration and decontamination of your water supply.

Carefully monitor yourself and family for infections

During damp and warm conditions infections are more likely. Exposure to bacteria and germs without as much sanitation being available can create a vicious playing ground for a full spectrum of infections. This can happen very quickly. Avoiding exposing cuts and scrapes to dirty conditions and contaminated water is important but difficult at times, especially if you have kids.

Immediately clean and apply antibiotic ointment and covering to any scrapes or cuts. Wear gloves and other protective gear if you need to have contact with contaminated water or dirty surfaces. Any cut that doesn’t clear up or gets worse should be addressed immediately. You may need some antibiotics to clear up some infections.

Choosing the right antibiotic is very important since some bacteria have become more resistant to some antibiotics or simply don’t respond at all to some. If you are in dire straits and treating yourself with antibiotics then using a broad spectrum one like Cephalexin may be better than Amoxicillin or Penicillin. I am not saying these two antibiotics are bad, but there are more and more bacteria that have become resistant to them.

Are you dealing with a major clean up? What are the conditions like in your area? What has been or do you expect to be the biggest challenges facing you and those around you?

I wish everyone the best during this difficult and trying time. I could write a whole book on any aspect of what is going on. I hope I have been able to write some posts through this that have helped you in some way even if there is a lot left untold.

Samantha Biggers can be reached at [email protected]

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One Response to “Cleaning Up After A Hurricane & Flooding”

  1. Add a dehumidifier to that. Or two or three if you can find them. If you are staying elsewhere, buy as many as you have room for before returning home. Be sure to get the kind that shut off when the bucket is full. And don’t hesitate to use bleach. I know it’s no longer pc, but nothing kills the mold like bleach. But you probably will have to bleach walls and concrete floors more than once before you reinstall carpet. Of course, if the water staying in long or got very high, you’re going to pull those dry walls down and replace them anyway. If mold smell persists around kitchen or bathroom, it’s growing between the cabinets and walls. You may have to pull them out

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