After the flood: tips for cleaning up, staying healthy

The city of Palo Alto, the Santa Clara Valley Water District, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Santa Clara County Health Department and the American Red Cross offer the following advice:

Cleaning up

The Red Cross offers a free book, "Repairing Your Flooded Home."

Do not put debris (such as wet rugs or furniture) in yards or streets, since this may block storm drains and lead to additional flooding. The Palo Alto Sanitation Co. is providing debris bins, which can be requested by calling 483-4894. Also, the city of Palo Alto is waiving its landfill fee for one week.

Cooperate with city officials if water levels rise in your neighborhood.

Replenish home emergency kits.

The capacity of the city's wastewater treatment system is strained by the level of storm water. Reduce demand on the wastewater treatment system by conserving water; do not open sewer manholes to relieve storm water; do not put storm water or swimming pool water in sanitary sewer; minimize flushing of toilets and discharge from washing machines and baths.

Contract services to help repair water damage are available by checking the Yellow Pages under "water/flood damage."

Remove as much excess water as possible by mopping and blotting (do not use a household vacuum).

Wipe as much excess water from wooden furniture after removing lamps and table-top items.

Remove and prop up wet upholstery cushions for even drying.

Place aluminum foil, china saucers or wood blocks between furniture legs and wet carpeting.

Wash all clothing, bedding and linens in hot water or dry clean them.

For mattresses and upholstered furniture which cannot be dry cleaned or washed, air dry them in the sun and spray thoroughly with disinfectant.

Open windows to speed drying.

Remove Oriental or other rugs from wet wall-to-wall carpeting.

Remove books, magazines and other colored items from wet carpets and floors.

Open drawers and cabinet doors for complete drying. Do not force open stuck drawers.

Remove valuable paintings and art objects to a safe place.

Punch small holes in sagging ceilings to relieve trapped water and place pans to catch water that drips underneath.

Clean walls, hard floors and other surfaces with soap and water. Disinfect with a solution of one cup bleach and five gallons water. Be especially careful to disinfect areas where food is stored or prepared, like countertops, pantry shelves, and refrigerators.

Thoroughly wash and disinfect all dishes, utensils, and kitchen equipment.

Steam clean any carpeting that can be saved.

If you suspect flood waters were contaminated with sewage or animal wastes, remove and discard contaminated materials including wall coverings, carpets, rugs and drywall.

Careless cleanup can do more harm than good by distributing fungus and bacteria that can grow on wet materials to other areas of the building and into heating and ventilation systems.

Staying healthy

Stay on firm ground. Moving water, even six inches deep, can sweep you off your feet. Standing water can be electrically charged because of underground or downed power lines.

Flood debris may hid hazards, and may have caused familiar places to change.

Turn off the electricity at the main breaker or fuse box, even if the power is off in your community. Then, you can decide when your home is dry enough to turn it back on.

If you come into contact with floodwaters:

Wash hands frequently. Make sure children wash their hands as well.

Protect open cuts or sores from water. Wash with soap and apply antibiotic ointment.

If you swallow floodwater, you should see a doctor immediately because of the risk of Hepatitis A. While the virus won't pass through skin, it poses a risk to those who swallow floodwater.

Avoid eating food that may have come in contact with flood water. Undamaged, commercially canned food can be saved if you remove labels, thoroughly wash the cans and disinfect them with a solution of one cup bleach to five gallons water. Food containers with screw caps, snap lids, flip caps, twist caps and home-canned foods should be discarded if they have come into contact with flood water because it cannot be disinfected.

Don't let children play with toys that may have come in contact with flood water until the toys have been disinfected. Use a solution of one cup bleach in five gallons of water.

Returning to previously flooded areas:

Wear boots and gloves when working in flooded areas.

Do not use electrical appliances that have been in contact with flood waters. Be sure main electrical switch is turned off before entering a structure. Don't turn it back on until you are sure there has been no damage to wires or appliances.

For infants, do not use powdered formulas prepared with treated water. Use only pre-prepared baby formula that isn't condensed and doesn't require added water.

If the power was off, throw away all discolored or foul-smelling food. Freezer foods may last from 48 to 72 hours, but if in doubt, throw it out.


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