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Floodwaters Carry Contamination Exercise Care When Returning to Flood-Damaged Homes

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Release date: 
May 28, 1999
Release Number: 

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- Disaster officials of both Iowa Emergency Management Division (IEMD) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) warn owners of flood-damaged homes to proceed cautiously and prepare carefully before returning to their residences.

Renters and homeowners should assume that anything touched by floodwater is contaminated. Mud left by floodwater can contain chemicals from sources as varied as your garden chemicals to a neighbor's propane tank to the oven cleaner you stored in the kitchen.

In addition, homes and apartments that have flood damage are likely to have damp areas where molds, mildews and other fungal organisms thrive. Since molds and related organisms may cause respiratory problems, it is important to use proper procedures in cleaning flood-damaged homes. 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 pay careful attention to all warnings on labels.

Before beginning to work on flooded residences, 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 you to disconnect wiring from switches and outlets, do so and throw away the switches and outlets. If your building inspector says that you cannot disconnect the wiring, pull them forward, away from the wall, and leave them connected.

Remove as much mud as possible. Plan to disinfect the basement at a later date. Once you've checked the water system for leaks, 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.

Disconnect and remove heating and cooling registers and ducts, then hose the ducts to prevent contamination from blowing through them at a later date. After hosing ductwork, wash with commercially available disinfectant or sanitizer. If ducts are in slab or otherwise inaccessible, have them cleaned professionally.

In past Midwest floods, people have been poisoned by carbon monoxide when using gasoline-powered appliances such as power washers or generators in clean up. Any fuel-powered small engine will produce carbon monoxide and should only be used in a well-ventilated area.

Don't let floodwater sit for long. Use a mop, squeegee or wet/dry vacuum cleaner to remove standing water. Always wash your hands with soap and clean water after working in the area.

For more information, a joint publication of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the American Red Cross is available. For a free copy of "Repairing Your Flooded Home," write FEMA Publications, P.O. Box 70274, Washington, DC 20024, or call 1-800-480-2520.

All homeowners, renters and business owners affected by the severe storms and flooding are urged to call the toll-free registration number, 1-800-462-9029, to apply for assistance. People with hearing or speech impairments can call (TTY) 1-800-462-7585 for assistance. Applications can be made between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. CDT, seven days a week until further notice.

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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