In the water's wake

Publication Date: Friday Feb 27, 1998

In the water's wake

From ants to mold to insurance adjusters, Palo Alto residents are immersed in post-flood details

Getting bugged

Ants come inside during summer droughts, looking for water, but they are just as likely to visit during and after heavy rains, escaping the damp. The Palo Alto Storm Drain Program and the Regional Water Quality Control Plant recommend the following tactics for managing ants.

To keep out the swarms, kill the scouts when you see them.

Store food in containers that seal tightly and keep them in the refrigerator.

Keep things dry--ants need food and water.

If you're experiencing an infestation, find the source of their curiosity and from where they are entering.

Clean up lines of ants with a vacuum or spray with soapy water and wipe up.

Block the entry point temporarily with tape. Use silicone caulk to permanently close cracks and gaps, and weather strip doors and windows.

If you can't find an entry point, clean up the ants. Place an ant trap or bait station (available in hardware or grocery stores). Do not spray insecticide around the trap--it will repel the ants and prevent them from taking poison-tainted food back to the nest. Remove the trap as soon as the line of ants disappears so you don't attract more into the house.

Coping with insurance

A spokesperson for United Policy Holders offered the following advise to more than 75 people who attended a free workshop on filing an insurance claim last Wednesday at the Palo Alto City Council Chambers.

Report your claim promptly.

If the adjuster assigned to your claim says you have no coverage, don't simply take their word for it.

Maintain a claim journal in a three-ring binder for easy reference and documentation. Note dates and subjects of all conversations. Record names, phone numbers, job titles and supervisor's name.

Document your loss thoroughly to insure a fair recovery.

Hire your own experts.

Do not sign any releases or waivers of any kind until you know your rights.

If your business was destroyed, you are entitled to coverage for business interruption. Beware--there is a time limit so check your policy and make sure any repairs are complete before coverage is exhausted.

United Policy Holders can be reached at (510) 763-9740.

Cleaning up and staying healthy

Clothing and linens

Before washing clothes, run the washing machine through one cycle with hot water and disinfectant.

Clean off dry mud and dirt before you put clothing or linens through the washing machine.

Adding chlorine bleach will remove most mildew and will sanitize the clothing.


Don't try to force open swollen wooden doors and drawers.

Take the back off the damp pieces of furniture to let the air circulate.

Wood alcohol or turpentine applied with a cotton ball may remove white mildew spots on wood.

Unless the piece of furniture is an antique or very valuable, upholstered furniture should probably be thrown out. Get a cost estimate from a professional to see if it is worth saving.

Mattresses should probably be thrown out.

Salvageable upholstered furniture, as well as carpets and bedding, should be thoroughly cleaned by a professional.

Kitchen items and food

Throw out soft plastic and porous items like tupperware.

Clean and disinfect your dishwasher before using it.

Throw out any food, even cans, that have been in contact with flood water.

Do not keep any food that is in jars or bottles with screw-on lids or bottle caps.

Mold According to Dr. Gary Fujimoto, director of occupational medicine at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, there is not a lot you can do to prevent mold, but it is a health concern, especially for those who are allergic. Anything water-damaged should be cleaned out properly. Fujimoto and the American Red Cross offer the following tips for disinfecting and removing mold.

Any water-soaked carpets and rugs should be lifted and cleaned.

Soaked mattresses, carpet padding, stuffed animals, baby toys, cosmetics and pillows should probably be thrown out.

Other surfaces can be disinfected and wiped down. Use household disinfectants or sanitizers such as the quaternary, phenolic or pine-oil disinfectants (check labels for contents), or use 1/4 cup bleach mixed with one gallon of water to eradicate mold and mildew.

Never mix bleach with any other solutions, like ammonia or toilet-bowl cleaner, as it can produce a deadly gas.

Use gloves and be careful not to splash any in your eyes.

Use only in well ventilated rooms.

Do not use bleach on aluminum or linoleum.

The Red Cross offers a free handbook called "Repairing Your Flooded Home."

Health concerns

According to Fujimoto, the risk of infectious disease caused from untreated water is low, given the types of exposure he has seen. He said the incidence of Hepatitis A and typhoid is "extremely low in this community."

Dr. Marty Fenstersheib of the Santa Clara Public Health Office said if you have been exposed to flood waters in the last few weeks, your risk of exposure to infectious diseases, like Hepatitis A, is very low, adding that there is no indication presently for people to receive immuneglobulin shots.

Anyone with specific concerns or questions should see their doctor or call the Santa Clara County Health Department at (408) 885-4214.

Prepare for the next flood

Being prepared is more than just a Boy Scout motto. The American Red Cross and FEMA offer the following advise.

Flood proofing Flood proofing means to remodel or rebuild using materials and methods that will prevent or minimize damage from future floods. There are five types of flood proofing:

Elevation--most houses can be raised so that the lowest floor is above the flood-protection level.

Relocation--moving a building out of the flood-prone area is the surest way to protect it from damage.

Flood walls--flood walls, berms and levees all work to keep flood waters from reaching your house.

Dry flood proofing--all areas below the flood-protection level are made watertight. Walls are coated with plastic or rubberized sheeting or special waterproofing compound.

Wet flood proofing--this is modifying a building so that water will cause minimal damage. Building materials below the flood level are replaced with materials that are water resistant. Flood waters are allowed into the building to counteract the pressure on the outside of the walls.

Preparing for the next flood

If you have insurance, find out if you have the right kind of insurance and verify that you have adequate coverage.

Homeowners insurance does not cover damage caused by floods. If you do not have flood insurance you will need to purchase a separate policy under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

Prepare a flood response plan. This is a project for the entire family. Write down the plan and make sure everyone understands what to do in case of a flood.

Flood watch means a flood is possible in your area; flood warning means flooding is already occurring or will occur soon in your area. Make sure you and your family know the difference.

Develop a checklist as part of your flood response plan. These should be steps to take before flood waters reach your house, like taking pets to the kennel, moving furniture to higher levels, installing flood shields, turning off utilities, etc. (time permitting, of course). If you are asked to evacuate, consider the following advise:

Store any supplies you will need in an easy-to-carry container: battery-operated radio, flashlight and batteries, first-aid kit, essential medicines, baby supplies, etc.

Keep important family documents, like passports, wills, insurance policies, bank account numbers and family records in a waterproof, portable container.

Kimberley Lovato 

Back up to the Table of Contents Page