A catastrophic storm slammed into Louisiana in early 2016, dumping up to 31 inches of rain in less than 15 hours. By the time the storm ended, Louisiana had been drenched with 7.1 trillion gallons of water – more water than landed on the state during Hurricane Katrina. As many as 60,000 homes were damaged by the storm and 13 people were killed.
For the residents of homes damaged by the rainfall, the effects of the storm prevailed long after the rainfall ended. Tens of thousands of southern Louisiana residents were forced to either vacate or live in homes that were seriously damaged by flooding. For them, mold and mildew were a constant threat.
With precipitation intensity and total rainfall likely to continue increasing, it’s important to know what to do when flooding occurs.
The first 24-36 hours are critical
Mold and bacteria quickly thrive and spread in damp environments. Mold feeds on water. And bacteria spreads quickly if a flooded home was soaked by sewage, as often happens.
Cleaning up quickly after a flood is essential for keeping a home safe and healthy, especially for those living with asthma and allergies. Mold and mildew can start growing within just 24-36 hours after a flood. And often it lurks in the areas easily forgotten about, such as the attic, basement and crawlspaces.
It’s critical to stop any additional water intrusion before cleanup efforts begin. A thorough, top-to-bottom cleaning follows.
Eight tips on cleaning up
Here are eight tips that can help with the cleanup efforts.
Get started quickly. Mold and mildew begin growing right away, so begin the cleanup process as soon as possible.
Ventilation will help. Clean and dry out the home as soon as possible. Open windows for ventilation. Fans and dehumidifiers may also help.
Wear a mask. Protect yourself when cleaning by wearing rubber gloves, eye protection and a mask. Masks rated N-95 or higher are best for situations in which mold is present.
Use the right cleaning solution. Mix 1.5 cups of household bleach with 1 gallon of water to wash and disinfect areas. Never mix bleach and ammonia. The fumes are toxic.
Consider removing carpets. Carpets will likely have to be removed completely. Even if they dry out, that doesn’t mean that the mold spores have gone away.
If you can’t clean it, remove it. Remove porous materials such as wallboard, fiberglass and cellulose areas because they can’t be cleaned.
Use an air cleaner. A high-performance air purifier can help clean the air, even as work progresses. For example, the IQAir HealthPro Plus can dramatically reduce airborne particulates including mold, and can also reduce or eliminate any musty odors.
Know when to call the pros. This is especially true if damage was caused by sewage or contaminated water, or if mold is already extensive. Make sure any contractor has experience cleaning mold and is following EPA mold remediation guidelines.
One of the most difficult parts of the mold-cleanup process might not be the physical labor, but the emotional toll of having to throw out favorite chairs, toys or family heirlooms. If there is a chance these items might be contaminated, though, it’s best to let them go. By acting quickly and taking the right steps to control mold after a flood, your home and your indoor air quality will soon be safe and healthy again. For more information, visit www.epa.gov/mold.