Cleaning Up After a Flood


It’s hard to imagine having your home—for many people, their sanctuary—destroyed or damaged by a severe weather event. Unfortunately, that was the reality for multitudes of people after the recent flooding in Nashville and surrounding areas. The term “natural disaster” appropriately describes the devastation that resulted. After more than 13 inches of rain fell over the weekend of May 1-2, 2010, the Associated Press reported that at least 29 people died in Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi as a result of the storms. In Nashville, water damage to The Grand Ole Opry House was so severe that the legendary venue had to close temporarily. Thousands of residents are now returning to their waterlogged homes to begin cleanup efforts, which are reportedly expected to cost $1 billion. Even though the rain has long since stopped, dangers still exist for people involved in flood cleanup activities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers the following safety and hygiene tips:

  • Wear appropriate protective equipment. This includes hard hats, goggles, heavy work gloves, and watertight boots with steel toes and insoles. Cleanup crews should also wear earplugs or other hearing protection devices if they are working near noisy machinery such as chain saws, backhoes, tractors and blowers.
  • Wash hands regularly. Because flood water may contain sewage or agricultural and industrial byproducts, it’s critical that people involved in cleanup efforts wash their hands regularly with clean water. (Listen to local authorities to find out whether tap water is safe to use.) It is particularly important to do so before preparing or eating food, after toilet use, after participating in flood cleanup activities, and after handling articles contaminated with flood water or sewage. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds. Be sure to wash both the fronts and backs of your hands, between the fingers, and under the fingernails.
  • Treat wounds promptly. First aid, even for minor cuts and burns, is very important during flood cleanup, as open wounds could become infected from exposure to unsanitary flood waters. Cleanup crews should clean out all open wounds and cuts immediately with soap and water. (Again, be sure the water you are using has been deemed safe by local authorities.) If a wound gets red, swells or drains, seek immediate medical attention.
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect salvageable items. Excessive moisture and standing water contribute to the growth of mold in homes and other buildings. To remove and prevent mold growth, it’s important to clean up and dry out the building within 24 to 48 hours. To remove mold growth from hard surfaces such as countertops, use commercial products, soap and water, or a bleach solution. (If you use bleach, wear rubber gloves and protective eyewear.) To prevent mold growth, clean wet items and surfaces with detergent and water. Not all items will be salvageable. Mattresses, pillows, stuffed animals, carpeting and carpet padding, rugs, upholstery, wallpaper, drywall, insulation material, and paper, for example, should be thrown away.

People affected by the floods in and around Nashville likely want to return to their homes as soon as possible. Following these safety and hygiene precautions during cleanup activities can help them to do so.

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