Friday, May 21, 2010

Cleaning up and staying safe after a flood

The heavy rains that brought widespread flooding and devastation in Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi in early May have gone, but the muck left behind now has residents cleaning up and rebuilding their lives.

Even if the rains may not have affected you, floods can happen anywhere across the nation — even in your community. Storms, excessive rainfall, snowmelt and even a water-main break can cause a dangerous and destructive flood. Not only can flooding cause lots of water damage and interrupt day-to-day activities, but it can also be a source of health problems.

Luckily, there are steps you can take to prepare for the worst. The Get Ready campaign provides helpful tips (PDF) for what to do before, during and after a flood. And if your home was flooded, keep the following tips in mind as you clean up:

• Be safe while you clean up. Wear long pants to keep the bugs out and sturdy gloves and boots to protect hands and feet. Wear a mask when stirring up mold or lots of dust. Clean out wounds with soap and clean water as soon as they happen so they don’t get infected. And don’t use a gas-powered generator in a closed-off area.

• Keep your hands squeaky clean. Wash your hands often to avoid infection. If officials say the water isn’t safe, use bottled water or water that has come to a rolling boil for at least one minute. An alcohol-based hand sanitizer can also help if water is limited.

• Be mindful of electricity. Don’t use appliances that have gotten wet, including refrigerators, washing machines or driers, as water can damage electrical appliance motors. Have them and your small applicances checked out by a service person first. In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that you have an electrician check your house wiring before you flip a switch or use an outlet after a flood.

• Beware of mold. Mold grows very quickly in wet, damp areas, so dry everything out, and throw away items that won’t dry fast, like rugs. Put fans in your windows and doorways and face them outward (make sure the fan is not flood damaged first!). To clean mold use one cup of bleach per gallon of water.

• Clean everything. Sanitize the places where you prepare and eat your food as well as your pots, dishware and utensils. Wash your kids’ toys, the linens and all clothing. Throw out pacifiers and stuffed animals.

• Say goodbye to your food supply. Throw away perishable foods and anything that may have come in contact with floodwater, including canned foods, jars, spices and any food kept in a box, paper, foil or cellophane.

Although flood cleanup is hard work, following these steps can help keep you safe from infections and injuries after the waters recede.

The American Red Cross is accepting donations to help victims of the recent U.S. flooding. To help, visit the organization’s website or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Photos by David Fine, courtesy Federal Emergency Management Agency. Top photo, Maggie Potter cleans household items in Bordeaux, Tenn., on May 8 following flooding there. Bottom, a neighborhood in Clarksville, Tenn., remains flooded May 12, more than a week after storms flooded many homes in the area.

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