The worst of Hurricane Harvey’s impacts are over for many Precinct 4 residents, but recovery is only just beginning. Many Texans watched flood waters overwhelm their homes and escaped with only the bare necessities or nothing at all. As the waters continue to recede, many have already started thinking about cleaning up. Is anything salvageable? If you act fast, there may be a chance.
Try to return to your home during the daytime to avoid turning on lights in case your electrical system has been compromised. Use battery-powered flashlights instead of candlelight or lanterns until you can determine if the gas line is intact. If you smell natural gas, turn off the main gas valve, open all the windows, and leave immediately. Then, contact the gas company and do not return until you are told it’s safe.
Cleaning up after a disaster can mean facing a wide range of hazards from contaminated water to animals and insects, splintered wood and sagging ceilings. Everyone involved in the cleanup and repair of your home should wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, waterproof work boots or shoes, and waterproof work gloves. Protective eye wear, disposable masks, and hard hats may also be necessary.
First, removing any remaining water that may not have drained is an important step to slow mold growth and prevent wildlife, such as snakes, from moving in. If the water is still deep in your home, but the streets are clear of water, you may need to rent a pump or hire someone to pump out the remaining water. Mud and silt will most likely have to be shoveled out. If mud coats your walls, you may want to spray the area with a water hose and bleach solution. Otherwise, wet vacuums, towels, and a mop and bucket may be enough.
Drying Out, Cleaning Up
The next step is airing out your home, especially if it has been closed longer than 48 hours. The air is likely stale and humid. Running fans and opening windows will help pull moisture from the home. If power has been restored, you may be able to run dehumidifiers and air conditioning to remove moisture from the house as well.
Once the area is dry enough, you should focus on moving all soft items affected by flood waters outside to dry if possible. These include upholstered furniture, bedding, and clothing. If mold hasn’t set in, these items may be salvaged.
Make sure to rinse off any mud before allowing the items to air dry. Allow the items to continue air drying until they can be cleaned thoroughly. Wash all linens in hot water or dry clean them. For items that cannot be washed or dry cleaned, such as upholstered furniture, air dry them in the sun and then spray them with a disinfectant. All items affected need to be thoroughly cleaned as soon as possible.
The following items should be discarded:
• Soaked soft items like rugs, wall coverings, mattresses, cosmetics, and stuffed animals.
• All food, beverages, and medicine exposed to flood waters.
• Flood affected cooking-ware made out of porous material, such as wood or plastic. These may include cutting boards, wood or plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples, and pacifiers.
• Remove all drywall and insulation that has been in contact with flood waters.
• Consider removing vinyl floor coverings and tile if water is trapped beneath them to allow the base structure to dry.
Once the soft items are safely drying, you can focus on cleaning more durable items.
Walls, hard-surfaced floors, and other household surfaces like countertops and appliances should be cleaned with soap and water and disinfected with a solution of 1 cup of bleach to five gallons of water. Be particularly careful to thoroughly disinfect surfaces that may come in contact with food, such as countertops, pantry shelves, and refrigerators. Areas where small children play should also be carefully cleaned.
Metal pans, ceramic dishes, and utensils that have come into contact with floodwater can be cleaned with hot, soapy water. You can sanitize dishes by soaking them in a bleach solution with no more than one tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water.
Don’t attempt to use water damaged appliances until they dry thoroughly. Some appliances like televisions and radios can even shock you if they are unplugged. Those will have warning labels and will need to be checked by a professional before they are tested. Depending on the appliance, it may be more cost-effective to buy a new one.
Dishwashers, stoves, washers and dryers, and refrigerators can often be salvaged, although they should be professionally inspected and cleaned.
Depending on the level of water damage incurred, it can take weeks or months for your home’s structural elements to be thoroughly dried, so try to be patient. Only then should you replace drywall, carpets, and other floorcoverings.
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Harris County Precinct 4
1001 Preston, Suite 950
Houston, Texas 77002