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Returning to Your Flooded Home

Precautions When Returning to Your Home

When returning to your home after a natural disaster, you need to be alert to various health and safety hazards that might exist. Flood waters can contain sewage related organisms, chemicals, organic and non organic soils and debris. As water remains in contact with your home and contents, molds can begin to grow. Animals and insects can present additional problems. Power to your home may or may not have been shut off. Electrical hazards are a major concern when working in a wet damp environment. If you have gas fired appliances that are operating, combustion gases may not be properly vented from the structure and can result in carbon monoxide poisoning or fire. For more information on electrical safety see also Protect Yourself from Electrical Hazards.

If you are entering your home during the day time, consider turning off the electrical power at the main source if there is standing water. Do not turn on power or use an electric tool or appliance while standing in water.    Also, natural gas or propane tanks should be shut off to avoid fire or explosion. It is safer to use battery-powered flashlights and lanterns, rather than candles or gas lanterns. When opening the door to your home, it might be advisable to allow it to air out for 30 minutes or so before you enter. If upon entering, you smell gas, continue to allow the home to air out and check to ensure that the gas or propane has been shut off. If there is a gas odor, DO NOT turn on the lights or light a match.

As mentioned earlier, when your home has been flooded and has been wet for an extended period of time (i.e., days) you need to assume that the home is contaminated with bacteria and possibly mold. If you have returned to your home within a day or two of the flood and it appears that there is not a mold problem, you need to take steps to prevent mold from growing by taking immediate action. You either have to begin the drying process or hire a qualified restorer to help you. Finding a qualified restorer can be a challenge when there is a large disaster. You can find local qualified firms by visiting the International Cleaning and Restoration Association website.

Because there are health and safety hazards after a flood, you should be concerned about your personal hygiene. Wear rubber boots, gloves, goggles and a respirator at a minimum. Keep children and pets out of the affected area. Be sure to wash your hands regularly. Be aware that you can carry contaminants from your contaminated home to your car or to your place of temporary residence on the clothes that you wear. For information on personal hygiene during a storm see Personal Hygiene During Flood Cleanup.

cleaning suppliesCleanup of Flooded Homes

  • Keep children and pets out of the affected area until cleanup has been completed.
  • Wear rubber boots, gloves, goggles and a respirator during cleanup of affected area.
  • Remove and discard items that cannot be washed and disinfected (such as, mattresses, carpeting, carpet padding, rugs, upholstered furniture, cosmetics, stuffed animals, baby toys, pillows, foam-rubber items, books, wall coverings, and most paper products).
  • Remove and discard drywall and insulation that has been contaminated with sewage or flood waters.
  • Thoroughly clean all hard surfaces (such as flooring, concrete, molding, wood and metal furniture, countertops, appliances, sinks, and other plumbing fixtures) with hot water and laundry or dish detergent.
  • Help the drying process by using fans and dehumidifiers.
  • After completing the cleanup, wash your hands with soap and warm water. Use water that has been boiled for 1 minute (allow the water to cool before washing your hands).
    • Or you may use water that has been disinfected for personal hygiene use (solution of ⅛ teaspoon [~0.75 milliliters] of household bleach per 1 gallon of water). Let it stand for 30 minutes. If the water is cloudy, use a solution of ¼ teaspoon (~1.5 milliliters) of household bleach per 1 gallon of water.
  • Wash all clothes worn during the cleanup in hot water and detergent. These clothes should be washed separately from uncontaminated clothes and linens.
  • Wash clothes contaminated with flood or sewage water in hot water and detergent. It is recommended that a laundromat be used for washing large quantities of clothes and linens until your onsite waste-water system has been professionally inspected and serviced.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you become injured or ill.

Because floodwater can contain bacteria and parasites it is important to treat all affected areas with an EPA registered biocide following label instructions for application and personal protective equipment to be used during application.

You can find local qualified firms by going to http://icrassociation.org/consumer-services/member-search.

Food and Water Safety

Food and Water SafetyPrevent illness from food

Identify and throw away food that may not be safe to eat including but not limited to:

  • food that may have come in contact with flood or storm water,
  • canned foods that are bulging, opened, or damaged,
  • food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture,
  • perishable foods (including meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers) that have been above 40°F for 2 hours or more.

Store food safely

If the power is out for less than 2 hours, then the food in your refrigerator and freezer will be safe to consume. While the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to keep food cold for longer. If the power is out for longer than 2 hours, follow the guidelines below:

  • For the Freezer section: A freezer that is half full will hold food safely for up to 24 hours. A full freezer will hold food safely for 48 hours. Do not open the freezer door if you can avoid it.
  • For the Refrigerated section: Pack milk, other dairy products, meat, fish, eggs, gravy, and spoilable leftovers into a cooler surrounded by ice. Inexpensive Styrofoam coolers are fine for this purpose.
  • Use a food thermometer to check the temperature of your food right before you cook or eat it. Throw away any food that has a temperature of more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Another option is to add block ice to your refrigerator if the electricity is expected to be off longer than 4 hours. Wear heavy gloves when handling ice.

drinking waterPrevent illness from water

Listen to and follow public announcements

Local authorities will tell you if tap water is safe to drink or to use for cooking or bathing. If the water is not safe to use, follow local instructions to use bottled water or to boil or disinfect water for cooking, cleaning, or bathing.

Correctly boil or disinfect water
Hold water at a rolling boil for 1 minute to kill bacteria. If you can’t boil water, add 1/8 teaspoon (approximately 0.75 mL) of newly purchased, unscented liquid household bleach per gallon of water. Stir the water well, and let it stand for 30 minutes before you use it. You can use water-purifying tablets instead of boiling water or using bleach. For infants, use only pre-prepared canned baby formula. Do not use powdered formulas prepared with treated water. Disinfect children’s toys that have come in contact with water. Use a solution of 1 cup of bleach in 5 gallons of water to disinfect the toys. Let toys air dry after cleaning. Some toys, such as stuffed animals and baby toys, cannot be disinfected; they should be discarded.

Personal Hygiene During Flood Cleanup

After a flood, finding running water can be difficult. However, keeping your hands clean helps you avoid getting sick. It is best to wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. However, when water is not available, you can use alcohol-based hand products made for washing hands (sanitizers).

When should you wash your hands?

  • Before preparing or eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • After handling uncooked foods, particularly raw meat, poultry, or fish
  • Before and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After handling an animal or animal waste
  • After handling garbage
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After you are through with any cleanup activity and prior to getting into your vehicle

wash hands

Washing with soap and clean water

  1. Place your hands together under clean water (warm water if possible).
  2. Rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds (with soap if possible). Wash all surfaces well, including wrists, palms, backs of hands, fingers, and under the fingernails.
  3. Clean the dirt from under your fingernails.
  4. Rinse the soap from your hands.
  5. Dry your hands completely with a clean towel if possible (this helps remove the germs). However, if towels are not available it is okay to air dry your hands.
  6. If you use a disposable towel, throw it in the trash.

Remember: If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Using alcohol-based hand sanitizers

If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

  • Apply product to the palm of one hand.
  • Rub hands together so that you cover all surfaces of your hands including wrists, palms, backs of hands, fingers, and under the fingernails.
  • Clean the dirt from under your fingernails.
  • If you use a disposable towel, throw it in the trash.

Be careful about soiled clothing. Either wear protective overalls that can be taken off, bagged and cleaned daily or disposable coveralls. Otherwise you might transfer contaminants to your vehicle and to you temporary residence. Others may come into contact with the contaminants and be adversely affected.

down-power-line

Protect Yourself from Electrical Hazards

After a hurricane, flood or other natural disaster you need to be careful to avoid electrical hazards both in your home and elsewhere.

  • Never touch a fallen power line. Call the power company to report fallen power lines.
  • Avoid contact with overhead power lines during cleanup and other activities.
  • Do not drive through standing water if downed power lines are in the water.
  • If a power line falls across your car while you are driving, stay inside the vehicle and continue to drive away from the line. If the engine stalls, do not turn off the ignition. Warn people not to touch the car or the line. Call or ask someone to call the local utility company and emergency services. Do not allow anyone other than emergency personnel to approach your vehicle.
  • If electrical circuits and electrical equipment have gotten wet or are in or near water, turn off the power at the main breaker or fuse on the service panel. Do not enter standing water to access the main power switch. Call an electrician to turn it off.
  • Never turn power on or off yourself or use an electric tool or appliance while standing in water. Do not turn the power back on until electrical equipment has been inspected by a qualified electrician. All electrical equipment and appliances must be completely dry before returning them to service. Have a certified electrician check these items if there is any question.
  • If you see frayed wiring or sparks when you restore power, or if there is an odor of something burning but no visible fire, you should immediately shut off the electrical system at the main circuit breaker.
  • Consult your utility company about using electrical equipment, including power generators. Do not connect generators to your home’s electrical circuits without the approved, automatic-interrupt devices. If a generator is on line when electrical service is restored, it can become a major fire hazard and it may endanger line workers helping to restore power in your area.
  • If you use a gasoline-powered pump, generator, pressure washer, or any other gasoline-powered tools to clean your home, never operate the gasoline engine inside a home, basement, garage, carport, porch, or other enclosed or partially enclosed structures, even if the windows and doors are open. Such improper use can create dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide and cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

If you believe someone has been electrocuted take the following steps:

  1. Look first. Don’t touch. The person may still be in contact with the electrical source. Touching the person may pass the current through you.
  2. Call or have someone else call 911 or emergency medical help.
  3. Turn off the source of electricity if possible.
  4. If the person is free of the source of electricity, check the person’s breathing and pulse. If either has stopped or seems dangerously slow or shallow, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately.
  5. If the person is faint or pale or shows other signs of shock, lay him or her down with the head slightly lower than the trunk of the body and the legs elevated.
  6. Don’t touch burns, break blisters, or remove burned clothing. Electrical shock may cause burns inside the body, so be sure the person is taken to a doctor.

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