Thursday, December 6, 2007

How to Clean Up After a Flood

I was out of town when the devastating storms hit Western Washington last week and submerged parts of Lewis County. Walking through the Seattle airport, I stopped dead in my tracks in front of the newspaper vending machines, with front page pictures of I-5 under 10 feet of water.

Why did the national media give so little attention to such devastation? The main artery between Portland and Seattle was closed for days. Hundreds of homes were seriously damaged. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports in King County ALONE:

" of Friday afternoon, the county has received 192 reports from residents, totaling $4.25 million in uninsured damage or loss to primary residences. The county has also received 16 reports of damaged businesses for a total of $524,000." (More)

Some homeowners will find that their insurance does not cover flood damage; they have to hope for federal aid, and charity. Others could find themselves mired in battles with their insurance companies for weeks, maybe months, before they see any cash. And what will they do in the meantime?

Speaking from experience, they will be doing a lot of hard physical work.

From the pictures, it looks like many homes were filled mainly with water. Others were filled with mud, or even worse, raw sewage.

All will have to get rid of the water, mud or sewage, then haul their belongings out of the homes and try to salvage whatever they can. Face masks should be worn to prevent possible respiratory problems. They will have to get discard all carpets and padding, mattresses, and drywall, as well as upholstered furniture, cosmetics, stuffed animals, baby toys, pillows, foam-rubber items, books, wall coverings and most paper products. If their fridges and freezers were out of power for days, they'll have to get rid of all the contents. Some will find that even five washings will not get the mud out of their laundry. Then, time to wash things clean.

A pressure washer is so helpful at this point.

Once they have a bare, stripped-down space, they can commence with disinfecting, most likely with bleach or other antimicrobial products. Then comes the drying out and mold prevention.

It will takes gallons and gallons of bleach to wash down every surface and every washable item in the house. Now comes the drying-out phase.

Humidity is very low here on the Palouse, yet drying took a couple of weeks. Once I got clearance to switch on the power, I left fans running continuously for at least two weeks (I learned that dehumidifiers have limited efficacy in such situations.) This was not just in the basement: areas upstairs also needed serious ventilation, for even though they escaped flooding, the moisture percolated upwards, creating a cold damp that seeped into everything, smelling damp and dank.

I wonder, in the wet and humid west side, how much longer it will take to get completely dry?

After numerous trips to the dumpster or transfer station, it will be time to rebuild. New drywall, insulation, carpet, possibly wiring and plumbing, paint, maybe doors, appliances, bedding, food, clothing.

How can you help?

From Northwest Cable News:

The American Red Cross says financial donations are the most efficient way to assist families. The Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund allows the agency to provide relief to victims of disaster each year by providing water, food, shelter and mental health counseling. To designate your donation to a specific disaster, do so at the time of your donation. Call 1-800-REDCROSS.

You can make a donation at any US Bank branch in Washington. Be sure to tell the bank your donation is for Northwest Response.

In Lewis County, the United Way is the key contact point for donations of supplies, financial aid and volunteer time. Call (360) 748-8100 to help.

Items that are needed include:

  • Flat or snow shovels

  • Floor squeegees

  • Tarps

  • Cleaning supplies

  • Clothing

  • Food

  • Financial assistance

  • Face masks (cloth dust masks)

And what about the livestock in the affected areas?

Pasado's Safe Haven is responding to animals in need in Lewis and Mason counties. The public can help by calling in a donation to Monroe Farm & Feed (360-794-4663), donating a Costco or PetSmart gift card or making an online donation. Donations will support animal rescuers, who need to pay for hotel stays, gas and food. In addition, you can drop off dog and cat food and supplies at Barrier Motors, 1533 120th Avenue N.E., Bellevue, WA, 98005.

The Towns-End Cattle Co. is accepting donations to support flood victims. The business is delivering hay to Lewis County livestock.

The Washington Farm Bureau has created a Flood Relief Fund to meet the needs of farmers and ranchers impacted by flooding. To make a donation, call 1-800-331-3276.

In any event, flood victims should try not feel bad about accepting the help of others. It is much harder to receive than it is to give, but a lesson well worth learning.

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