As Florida braces for the possible landfall of Hurricane Matthew the rest of us watch and wait. But don’t get too comfortable (or too schadenfreude-y). True, tropical storms and hurricanes are East Coast phenomena, but floods are the number one natural disaster in the United States, according to FloodSmart.gov. The site reports that total flood insurance claims averaged nearly $4 billion per year from 2003 to 2012.
Considering how common flooding is, and how dangerous floodwaters can be, proper flood cleanup is paramount to business owners needing to bounce back from disaster quickly.
Flood waters are not clean. They may contain a variety of infectious organisms like E. coli, Salmonella and Shigella along with Hepatitius A and tetanus. They may also be contaminated with agricultural or industrial chemicals. Unsafe floodwaters are not the only danger present. Damaged electrical and gas systems could cause a fire, while an inundated building may have hidden structural damage.
Then there’s mold. Spores will start to grow on wet or damp surfaces within 48 hours. Exposure can cause skin and eye irritation and wheezing in the general population or more serious symptoms in people with asthma or allergies.
Begin flood cleanup only after a building has been deemed structurally safe. The first job is removing standing water. A wet/dry vacuum cleaner does this job well. Any mud left by floodwaters should be considered contaminated. Shovel out as much as possible and use a hose to remove mud from hard surfaces. Open cabinets, drawers and closet doors and run fans and dehumidifiers to facilitate drying, but only if it’s safe to use the electricity.
Don’t drain a flooded basement too quickly. The Hartford recommends removing about a third of the volume of water per day. Going any faster may cause structural damage.
What to Save/What to Toss
Take all furnishings outdoors to assess if they can be safely cleaned and dried. Solid wood, metal and plastic furniture can be cleaned but restoring wood veneered furniture is often not worth the cost and effort. Upholstered furniture should be cleaned by a professional or discarded.
Porous building materials need to be removed as well. This includes dry wall, insulation and ceiling tiles. Carpet pads must always be thrown away but the actual carpet or rugs may be salvaged. The Hartford recommends removing as much water as possible with a wet/dry vacuum before shampooing twice with a 10% bleach solution. The carpet must be totally dry within 12 to 24 hours after treatment.
Wet paper files need to be fully dried within 24 hours. If that’s impossible, rinse the files with clean water and store in a freezer to prevent mold growth.
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Amy Milshtein covers design, facility management and business topics for a variety of trade publications and consumer magazines.
Her work has won several awards, most recently a regional silver Azbee Award of Excellence.
She lives in Portland, OR with her family and Clyde, a 15-lb tabby cat. Once an avid hiker, these days she finds herself on the less-challenging -but-still-exciting 'creaky knees' trails.