Experts offer safety measures to take after flooding

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Water sanitation, mold, snakes, rodents all concerns

Before reentering a home after flooding, important steps need to be taken to ensure safety.

To help, the University of Missouri extension has resources to help Barry County residents in the aftermath of recent flooding throughout the county.

"We have to think about flood recovery and dealing with the issues of going back into the house, such as making sure the power is off, and there's not a structural issue as in whether or not a building can fall in," said Tim Schnakenberg, regional agronomy specialist for the extension. "There are also issues of E. coli from well contamination, and mold. We have a lot of water that's been moving underground and that could be good or bad depending on where the septic system is.

"There's a whole guide sheet from the extension on testing your well after a flood. I started going back through our resources, and we have a lot of good references online. Things like, what to consider when you go back in, cleanup, mold issues and snakes and rodents in flood situations. There are several good things I think can be helpful."

The extension office advises families returning to flooded homes to exercise caution before and during the cleanup process and offers resources on food and water sanitation, cleaning and disinfecting, removing mildew from household items, wall restoration, floor coverings, federal disaster assistance, documenting losses and claims and more.

In one handout on water safety, families are advised to check wells.

"If your well has been flooded, the well and entire water system should be cleaned and disinfected," said Eric Evans, emergency management specialist with the Fire and Rescue Training Institute. "Floods can contaminate wells with silt, raw sewage, oil and disease organisms."

To disinfect a well, Evans advises to:

1. Pump the water until it is clear

2. Scrub and disinfect the pump room and wash all equipment with at least a 2 percent chlorine solution. Note: Laundry bleach is usually 5 percent chlorine, so mix 1 gallon with 1-1/2 gallons of water.

3. Remove the well seal or plug at the top of the casing. Pour a solution of one quart of laundry bleach and 3 gallons of water into the top of the casing. Leave it there at least four hours, preferably overnight.

4. Pump the chlorinated water through the system. While filling all piping, open one faucet at a time until there is a strong chlorine oder at each faucet.

5. Pump and flush the system until the taste and odor of chlorine are no longer present.

6. Have the water tested. Boil or treat all drinking water until the water test indicates the water is safe.

Instructions for disinfecting a cistern are also included in the handout.

After a flood, water sanitation and mold aren't the only concerns, as snakes and rodents can surface due to being displaced from flooding. To that end, Robert A. Pierce, extension fish and wildlife specialist, from the department of fisheries and wildlife sciences, offers guidance.

"Snakes often become displaced after a storm or flooding event," he said. "As a result, many of these animals are seeking shelter and food in areas close to people. These areas, out of the way of high water, include the inside of homes, storage sheds, barns and other buildings. Damaged structures have a higher probability of attracting snakes because of the many accessible entrances. Displaced snakes may be found under debris scattered by the flood or in debris piles created during the cleanup effort."

According to Pierce, Missouri has many more species of nonvenomous snakes than venomous snakes.

"Both venomous and nonvenomous snakes are beneficial to people because they keep down rodent populations," he said. "Because rodents also are displaced by flooding, this is especially important."

Outdoors, Pierce advises to watch where you place your hands and feet when removing or cleaning debris.

"Wear snake-proof boots at least 10 inches high, or snake leggings in heavy debris areas where snakes are likely to be found," he said. "Never step over logs or other obstacles unless you can see the other side. If you encounter a snake, step back and allow it to proceed on its way. Snakes usually do not move fast, and a person easily can retreat from its path."

If a snake is found indoors, he advises isolating the snake within a room or small area.

"Capture nonvenomous snakes by pinning them down with a long stick or pole, preferably forked at one end, and then remove by scooping them up with a flat-blade shovel," he said. "If you are uncomfortable removing the snake yourself, seek someone in the community who has experience handling snakes. A good starting point is your local animal control shelter or sheriff's department."

As a last resort, it may be necessary to kill a venomous snake. If so, Evans advises to club it with a long stick, rod or other tool like a garden hoe.

"Never try to kill a venomous snake with an instrument that brings you within the snake's striking range, usually estimated at less than half the total length of the snake," he said. "For rodents, structures damaged by floods are particularly attractive and provide easy access. The unwelcome pests can damage property and, in extreme cases, pose a potential health problem."

Resources for steps to take after a flood can be found at http://extension.missouri.edu/n/2704, or http://tinyurl.com/qbuhryl.

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