One of the most devastating things that can happen to a homeowner is not only a flood, but also the cleanup. Even if you've taken preliminary emergency planning steps, flood cleanup can present a real challenge. It requires a great deal of caution because much more than just water can be left behind, like mold, broken gas lines, and unwanted wildlife. In addition, much of the cleanup will be for contaminants you can't see. That's why it's important to take some precautions to help you stay safe.
Safety Before the Cleanup
- Wait for clearance. Return home only after authorities advise it is safe to do so.
- Contact the appropriate authorities. If you suspect damage to water, gas, electric, or sewer lines, report it immediately to the utility company, police, or fire department.
- Check for structural damage. Before reentering your home, make sure it is structurally sound. Do not enter if there is any chance of collapse.
- Keep power off. Don't turn on the power until an electrician has inspected your system for safety. Also, do not wade into standing water in your basement unless you are sure the electricity to your home is off.
- Make sure electrical equipment is dry. Electrical equipment, such as the sump pump and furnace motors, should be dry before use to avoid producing severe shocks.
- Avoid open flames indoors. In case of gas leaks, use a flashlight instead of candles or anything with an open flame.
- Check for leaking gas. Inspect gas and oil furnaces and gas hot water heaters for leaks and to ensure that pilot flames are lit. If gas is escaping, do not light a match until the gas supply has been shut off. If you are unfamiliar with how to do this, contact your local gas company or a professional heating contractor.
- Beware of wild animals in your home. Keep an eye out for snakes or other animals that may have taken refuge in your home after being driven to higher ground by floodwater. If you see a wild animal in your home, try to find a safe and humane way to help it exit your property.
Safety During the Cleanup
- Minimize skin exposure. Wear protective clothing such as rubber gloves, goggles, and heavy-duty boots. Wash your hands with warm water and soap even after wearing gloves.
- Protect existing cuts or scrapes. Make sure any cuts or scrapes you might have don't come into contact with contaminated floodwaters. If you receive a puncture wound when working in a contaminated area, see your doctor immediately.
- Sterilize or discard anything touched by floodwaters. Due to potential bacterial contamination, clean and disinfect everything that was touched by floodwaters or mudflows. Since fabrics can harbor harmful bacteria for long periods, take special care when laundering clothing, bedding, and other similar materials. Throw out all packaged and unpackaged food items, medicines, medical supplies, and cosmetics that were exposed.
- Boil water. To kill harmful microorganisms, boil water for drinking and food preparation until authorities tell you that your water supply is safe.
- Protect against mold. Remove wet contents immediately, such as carpeting, furniture, and bedding, to help prevent mold. Set up dehumidifiers and oscillating fans around affected rooms to dry the area.
- Keep children and pets away. Wait until the after cleanup is done before letting your kids and animals return home.
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