Baton Rouge, LA -- Floodwaters are toxic. The contaminated debris of Tropical Storm Allison will require special handling. Disaster officials of both the Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness (LOEP) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) urge owners of flood-damaged homes to keep several important facts in mind as they continue cleaning up.
Homeowners should assume that anything touched by floodwater is contaminated. Mud left by floodwater can contain chemicals from sources as varied as your garden, a neighbor's propane tank, and the oven cleaner you stored in the kitchen.
It is important to thoroughly dry all areas of your home. Flood-damaged homes are likely to have damp areas where mold, mildew, and bacteria thrive. Even though the surfaces of walls or cabinets are dry, it is not safe to assume that they are dry all the way through. Hidden moisture can breed molds, mildew, and other organisms. Rebuilding too quickly and trapping moisture inside walls can cause continuing problems such as mold growth, insect infestations and deterioration of the wood and wood coverings.
FIRST STEPS TO TAKE FOR DRYING OUT THE HOUSE:
- Turn off the main power.
- Open up the house to allow moist air to escape.
- Remove all wet furniture, contents and carpets or rugs. If you decide to keep some of these items they must be cleaned and disinfected.
- Discard all contaminated food products.
Walls must be allowed to dry thoroughly from the inside out. The drying process may take weeks or even months, depending upon initial moisture content and drying conditions. For home interiors keep these tips in mind:
- Interior plaster walls must be drained if they are still holding water.
- Remove and throw away flood-soaked wallboard.
- Remove wet insulation and discard. Rigid foam insulation is an exception. It can be removed and disinfected. Once it is completely dry, it can be reinstalled.
- Wash and disinfect the exposed wall cavity and framing using hot soapy water scrub and bleach rinse. Allow to dry VERY thoroughly.
- Lower the humidity, and everything will dry more quickly. You can speed the process by opening up the house, opening closet and cabinet doors, and using fans and dehumidifiers. Desiccants, materials that absorb water, can be useful in drying closets or other closed areas.
- Wet floor insulation must be removed and the framing disinfected and dried out.
- Use a wood moisture meter to check dryness. Lumberyards, hardware stores, or your local extension service may rent or loan meters.
When every closet interior, subfloor joist, and section of 2x4 framing have been completely dried and disinfected, rebuild with water-resistant materials. Ceramic tiles, "wonderboard," rigid foam insulation, and even marine plywood, may be appropriate materials to consider if you live in a flood-prone area.
Visit a Disaster Recovery Center to gather information on specific rebuilding strategies. For more information, a joint publication of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the American Red Cross has been published. Repairing Your Flooded Home is available free from the American Red Cross or your state or local emergency manager. It is also available from FEMA Publications, P.O. Box 70274, Washington, DC 20024, or call toll-free 1-800-480-2520, extension 4.