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After the flood

After a flood, your municipal government will notify the public through the media when it is safe to return home. The following are some important tips to help you clean up and restore your property. If you require more specific information on cleanup, contact your municipal office or your local health unit. Let your insurance agent or broker know as soon as possible about any loss or damage. If you are a tenant, inform your landlord about any flood damage to the property.


Protecting your emotional health

A flood disaster is both mentally and physically stressful. Take steps so that you and your family maintain their health:

• Rest often and eat properly

• Make a list of jobs that need to be done and do them in the order of priority, one at a time

• Talk to others about your concerns and don’t be afraid to ask for help

• Check your newspaper and listen to your local radio or television stations for information and help from your municipal government and/or Alberta Health Services on coping with the emotional effects of a disaster.

Protecting yourself and your family

• Floodwater may be contaminated with sewage and other contaminants, and could pose a health hazard. Proper clean-up is essential. Contact your local health unit if you suspect sewage contamination. Be sure to comply with their recommendations about using respirators, special clothing, or other protective measures. Do not try to save carpets, clothing or bedding that have been exposed to sewage. Sewage-contaminated waste materials should be placed in heavy-duty garbage bags and tagged. Follow your municipality’s instructions for disposal.

• Do not allow children into the house or yard until everything has been cleaned and disinfected. If children must be present during clean up, supervise them closely.

• Wear rubber boots, rubber gloves and eye protectors to prevent injuries.

• Be vigilant about good personal hygiene, i.e., wash face and hands with soap before eating or drinking.

• Check your newspaper and listen to your local radio or television stations for information about help that may be provided by your municipal or the provincial government, Alberta Health Services or other agencies.

• Prompt action will help to prevent mold. Try to get all wet surfaces clean, disinfected and dry as soon as possible.

• Cleanup priorities include:

• Removing water as soon as possible

• Clean out mud and other debris

• Discarding all materials that cannot be saved. Place them in a bag and dispose of them according to municipal regulations

• Wash and rinse all fabrics and furniture that will be sent out for cleaning, then dry and take them to the cleaners as soon as possible

• Wash and rinse all surfaces, then disinfect them

Returning home

As soon as floodwaters have receded and you have been notified that the flood danger is over, you will want to return to your house and start cleaning up. Do not attempt to live in the house, however, until you take the following precautions:

• Have the electric power system checked by an electrician.

• Have natural gas and propane appliances checked by a gas fitter.

• The water supply has been declared safe for drinking.

• Your sanitation facilities are working.

• All flood-contaminated rooms have been cleaned and disinfected.

Entering your home

• Make sure the building is safe before entering. Check for foundation damage and make sure all porch roofs and overhangs have their supports intact. If you see damage, contact a building inspector.

• If you see downed power lines or smell gas, leave the building and contact your utility company.

• If your basement was flooded, do not switch on the electricity until the complete system has been checked by a qualified electrician.

• Be very careful when you enter the building. A door sticking at the top could mean that the ceiling is ready to fall. If you have to force the door open, make sure you stand outside, well clear of any falling debris.

• Look for wet plaster on the ceiling. Knock it down with a stick before moving around.

• Use a flashlight to inspect for damage inside the house. Do not strike a match or use an open flame unless you know the gas has been turned off and the area has been ventilated.

• Watch your step. The floors and stairs can be very slippery, and silt on a basement floor may conceal nails or broken glass.

• Open all doors and windows to dry out the building.

Starting the clean-up

• Pump out the basement when it is safe to do so. If water has been standing for some time, is visibly cloudy, and/or has a foul smell, it is likely polluted and requires urgent treatment and removal. Pumps, wet/dry vacuums, and dehumidifiers may be available to rent. To hire a professional service, look in the telephone directory Yellow Pages under “Water Damage Restoration Services.”

• Move your belongings out of the wet area. Clean them and then spread them out to dry.

• If your home was flooded by sewage, discard exposed carpets, clothing, bedding and stuffed toys. Place these items and any other items you do not want to keep in heavy-duty garbage bags for disposal.

• Remove all mud and debris by scraping and washing with detergent, using a stiff broom or brush. This may be contaminated material and may need to be properly disposed of. Follow your municipality’s instructions for disposal.

• Never leave waste on the ground where children are at risk and insects or animals could pick up disease-causing organisms.

• Disinfect all walls, floors, ceilings and fixtures after they have dried. Make your own disinfecting solution by adding 125 millilitres (a half cup) of household bleach to 9 litres (2 gallons) of water or use a commercial disinfectant according to directions. Rinse metals after washing with a chlorine solution to prevent corrosion. Coat cast-iron items with vegetable oil to prevent rusting.

• DO NOT use gas-powered generators, camping stoves or charcoal barbecues indoors. The fumes are hazardous indoors.

• Water must be boiled or chlorinated before use until flooded and contaminated wells, cisterns, dugouts and dams have been treated and water samples analyzed as safe by your health unit.

Cisterns

Cisterns must be emptied, thoroughly cleaned, and refilled with chlorinated water. The following procedure should be used to get a cistern back into service:

• Remove all mud, cleaning the cistern thoroughly with broom or brush.

• Disinfect with a concentrated solution of chlorine bleach: 450 millilitres (2 cups) to 450 litres (100 gallons) of water.

• Pump a thoroughly mixed, concentrate solution of chlorine bleach through the system. Then close all outlets and allow the solution to remain in the system for eight hours.

• Thoroughly rinse the whole system with disinfected water. The odour of chlorine must disappear completely. This step is essential because chlorine can corrode metal pipes and tanks.

Dugouts and dams

Follow this procedure to put a dugout back in service:


• Pump out and remove sludge and debris.

• Make any repairs required.

• Refill the dugout.

• Consider installing a continuous chlorination-filtration system. Technical advice and information may be obtained from your Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development district office.

Plumbing

• During a flood, the water pressure in plumbing lines can reverse, and water in hot and cold pipes can be contaminated with floodwater. Have a plumber inject bleach into the lines to disinfect them.

• The footing drains outside your foundations may have been overloaded or blocked during the flooding. Have them checked by someone trained in plumbing and drains.

• Floor drains may be partially or fully blocked because of the flooding. Carefully flush, clean and disinfect floor drains and sump pumps.

Wells

Wells must be thoroughly pumped out and inflow water chlorinated. This procedure should not be attempted on shallow wells until at least two weeks after floodwaters have receded. Otherwise, they may be re-contaminated by polluted ground water.


Use the following procedure for getting a well back into service:

• Pump out the well.

• Thoroughly clean bored or dug wells. Remove floating debris and scrub or hose foreign material from well cribbing or casing. Then pump the well until water is clear.

• Pump 900 litres (200 gallons) of water into clean storage near the well.

• Pour 9 litres (2 gallons) of household laundry bleach (5.25 per cent chlorine) into well. You can get an equivalent strength of chlorine by substituting 4.5 litres (I gallon) sodium hypochlorite (12 per cent chlorine) or 0.6 kilograms (22 ounces) by weight of calcium hypochlorite (70 per cent chlorine.)

• Allow water to return to the non-pumping level in the well.

• Mix 9 litres (2 gallons) of household laundry bleach into the 900 litres (200 gallons) of water stored near the well and siphon the mixture into the well.

• Open each hydrant, faucet and other outlet in the distribution system and let it run until water at the outlet has a chlorine odour.

• Allow chlorine mixture to stand in the entire distribution system at least eight hours, preferably overnight.

• After the chlorine mixture has been in the system for at least eight hours, open an outside tap and let the mixture run onto the ground surface until all chlorine odour has disappeared. In high capacity wells it may be necessary to add enough clean water to the well during pumping to displace the water stored above the pump intake. Backwash all filters and softeners and flush the hot water tank.

• If the wastewater has a chlorine odour and you have difficulty removing the chlorine from the well, it indicates that too much chlorine was used. When the correct quantity of chlorine is used, the wastewater will have a chlorine odour, but the odour will disappear after the well has been pumped continuously for two to three hours.

• Don’t pump the wastewater into the septic tank. It will impair operation and cause flooding.

• After you have followed these procedures, obtain a sterile water-testing bottle from your local health unit and return a well water sample for analysis. Do not use the well water without first disinfecting it and until you have been notified that the water sample is safe.

xRestoring your sewage system

A house should not be re-occupied until satisfactory toilet facilities have been restored. Solid or liquid wastes must never be deposited on the ground where insects and animals can pick up and spread disease-causing organisms.


Insect control

For advice on insect control, contact your local health unit or a professional pest control company.


Municipal sewers

Householders will be notified when the municipal sewage system has been restored.


Outhouses (pit privies)

• Ensure that the outhouse is securely over the pit.

• If water remains in the pit, add ½ litre (2 cups) of household laundry bleach or 0.45 kilogram (1 lb.) of chloride or lime every week until the water disappears.

• If the outhouse has been washed away, cover open pits to prevent accidents and the spread of disease, until it can be replaced.

Septic tanks

• Septic tanks won’t operate until the disposal (leaching) field has dried. Check the siphon/pumping chamber (second compartment) to ensure that the intake of the siphon or pump is not blocked.
• NEVER enter a septic tank to check out a pump or siphon system without being protected by a certified air pack and a safety harness with rope. The atmosphere in a septic tank can be lethal, causing death without the use of proper safety equipment. At least one observer must be present when anyone enters a septic tank. This is for safety reasons and for quick removal of a person from the tank if anything should happen to cause a dangerous situation.

Yard clean-up

• Follow your municipality’s instructions for disposal of contaminated and other materials.
• Locate garbage for collection by municipal services at a safe distance from the home and downgrade of a well.
• Make sure that materials, which attract insects or animals, are sealed in animal-proof containers.

Restoring your heating system

• Before starting up the heating system, protect yourself against the hazards of fire, suffocation and explosion. Be careful to take all precautions to ensure the heating system is safe before resuming use. Have it inspected by a qualified technician.
• Before lighting the furnace, examine the inside of the combustion chamber and clean it thoroughly.
• Wash sediment from all pipes and ducts with a hose or a swab on a long stick. Access can usually be made through the clean-out door above the fire door. If the heater has a jacket, clean between the heater and the outside casing.
• Ensure that the chimney isn’t plugged. Take the smoke pipe out of the chimney and remove any mud from the lower part of the chimney.
• Have the heating system checked by a qualified technician before using it again.

Duct work

Hire a contractor to clean and inspect ductwork.

Gas furnaces/appliances

• Do not touch any electrical fixtures or switches. If the odour of gas is present, leave the building immediately, leaving the doors open. Contact the gas utility company. Do not re-enter the building until the leak has been repaired.
• When it is safe to clean gas appliances:
• Disconnect the vent connectors from appliances and clean thoroughly.
• Open the clean-out door at the base of the chimney and clean it thoroughly, removing mud and debris.
• Remove and clean any fan assemblies that have gotten wet. If any electric motor has been wet, have it checked by an electrician. It may be dangerous to use.
• Do not touch any gas controls or attempt to reconnect gas appliances. The system must be checked by a licensed gasfitter before being put back into service.
• Have propane systems checked by a licensed gasfitter before turning them on.

Water heaters

Water heaters are insulated with glass fibre, which can become soggy and saturated under its cover if flooded. If the appliance can be repaired, have the insulation replaced, as it is contaminated by the floodwaters.

Restoring electrical appliances

• If the electrical panel was submerged, have a qualified electrician replace all circuit breakers.
• All electrical appliances that got wet by the floodwaters should be checked by an electrician before being used.
• Depending on the depth of water in which the appliance was submerged, it may be less costly to replace rather than repair appliances.
• Appliances with foam insulation, such as ovens, refrigerators, and freezers that were submerged in floodwater, may have to be discarded because they cannot be disinfected. Check with an experienced serviceperson as to whether or not it is possible to remove and replace the insulation.
• All lighting fixtures, which were submerged in water, should be removed, cleaned and dried, and checked. Clean outlet boxes, wiring and sockets but do not remove connections or disconnect wiring. Connections in wiring and lights and small appliances can be wet and soggy even after the cover tape looks dry. Be sure they are dry before using. If you have any doubt about appliances or wiring, contact your electrician.
MAKE SURE THE POWER SUPPLY IS TURNED OFF BEFORE WORKING ON OUTLETS AND FIXTURES.
• Floor and table lamps should be completely disassembled, cleaned and dried thoroughly, before using.
• Extension cords that are not in good condition should be discarded.

Disinfectants

• Household liquid chlorine bleach (5 per cent sodium hypochlorite solution) is an effective disinfectant for most bacteria and fungi (like mold). Use bleach carefully and be sure you have cross ventilation.
• Surfaces and structures with mold growth - use full strength household bleach and let it remain on the surface for 15 minutes.
• For surfaces (not cement), structures, dishes, cutlery and utensils where no mold is visible - use one (1) part bleach to three (3) parts water.
• Bleach can destroy organic fabrics so do not use on silk and wool items. It can also weaken cotton fibres so use with care.
• Bleach can affect the colours of many surfaces and materials. Test on a small area before using.
• Never mix bleach with ammonia. The fumes produced together are very toxic.
• For wooden surfaces which could be damaged by a bleach solution - use a 5 to 10 percent borax solution with dishwashing detergent. Then next day wash with a one (1) part vinegar to three (3) part water solution and then rinse.

Foods

Floodwaters carry disease from raw sewage. The only safe flood-exposed foods are those in sealed metal cans, and even then, only if cans have not been dented. Use the following procedures with foods:

• Thoroughly clean all undamaged cans before opening. Use a brush to clean around the rims and caps. Disinfect, rinse and dry before storing.
• Dispose of the following items:
• The contents of your freezer or refrigerator, if electricity has been interrupted and contents thawed, or if appliances have been exposed to flood waters.
• All exposed meats
• All exposed fresh fruits and vegetables
• All exposed boxed foods
• All products in jars, including home preserves, cans and bottles that have been under water. The area under the seal of a jar or bottle cannot be adequately disinfected
• Products in coolers, if the coolers have been without power for four (4) hours
• All exposed medicines, cosmetics and other personal care items
• If in doubt about any items, contact your local health unit.


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This great information was taken with permission from the Alberta Emergency Management Agency's Emergency Preparedness Week Campaign Kit
Download the brochure in its entirety here.


8 areas of emergency preparedness Water - Vital for Life Food - Sustain Your Health Shelter - Protect Yourself From The Elements First Aid - Saves Lives
8 areas of emergency preparedness Light - Diversification is Key Heat - Maintain Your Core Temperature Communication - Stay In Touch Sanitation - Often Overlooked