Hurricane Flood Damage Cleanup: Performing it Safely | 2019 Season


Major flood damage cleanup after a hurricane disaster is certainly a daunting assignment to take on. The relief efforts can be overwhelming, both physically and emotionally.

For example, many who evacuated the Carolina coast from last year’s Hurricane Florence were no doubt anxious to return to their homes and begin the flood cleanup as quickly as possible. However, homeowners must be aware that the safety hazards from a storm like this do not go away when the water drains out of their house.

What to Expect After a Hurricane

With the 2019 hurricane season now upon us, there are some important reminders and resources here we feel can be useful should a storm hit your area. Following a hurricane, one key thing you should expect, in most cases, is major flood damage. Along with that, when beginning cleanup efforts, there are significant health and safety risks to be aware of, both immediate and long-term, whether it’s associated with river or ocean flooding.

Hurricane damage cleanup of this magnitude should ideally be done by trained professionals. This is to ensure that damage restoration is performed effectively and safely.  However, it’s clear that in a hurricane disaster, there simply aren’t enough of us.  Most of the work will inevitably be done by untrained homeowners, volunteers and casual labor.

The issues involved with major flood damage following a hurricane are much too complex to be covered in detail here.  Please don’t assume that our recommendations listed here even begin to come close to discussing everything you need to know to keep yourselves and others safe!  See resources below for more information.

Safety Reminders Following Hurricane Flood Damage

After the storm has passed, the cleanup work begins. Here are some specific reminders and suggestions to do it safely from Indoor Environmental Technologies (IET):

  • There are a host of safety and health issues potentially associated with remediating major flood damage, some of which may not be immediately obvious: poisonous insects or reptiles, wild animals, chemical contamination in the water, structural collapse, electrical risks, respiratory or skin irritation, etc.  Review the documents at the links below for more information.
  • Water of this type may be highly contaminated biologically and creates significant health risks from these contaminants even after the water drains away. See the Liberty Mutual link below for more detailed information.
  • The silt carried in the water is so fine that it often penetrates wall cavities and remains in place when the water drains away.  This silt should be removed, which requires removing finish materials over the cavities.
  • The issues involved with water damage restoration in general, as opposed to specifically addressing major flood damage, are covered in most detail in ANSI/IICRC S500-2015 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration.

    major flood damage to home in texas

    Home completely flooded from 2017 Hurricane Harvey in Spring, Texas.

  • Beyond the actual structural issues, the biggest concern should be decontamination by removing damaged unrestorable materials and sanitizing salvageable materials.  Drying out the building is less critical, especially initially.  Do not attempt to dry out contaminated assemblies or porous materials!
  • Since the water may contain pathogenic organisms, great care should be taken to protect skin, especially on hands and feet, from cuts or punctures. If a cut or penetration does occur it should be considered an extreme safety issue.  It should be addressed as a medical emergency, not a first aid issue!
  • Remove all porous materials (drywall, insulation, carpet, cushion, etc.) directly contacted by liquid water to at least 18” above the line reached by wicking water. A moisture meter may be useful in determining where this line is.  It will generally be well above the “flood line” left by debris on the surface.  The more quickly such materials are removed, the better. The longer they stay in place, the greater the risk of additional contamination resulting from mold growth.

Resources Following a Hurricane Flood Disaster

IET has produced an article about methods for effectively decontaminating a building that has had sewage backup.  The principles it describes for effectively decontaminating a structure also apply to flood damage remediation.  The article is aimed at professionals, but others may find it useful.  It attempts to point out some aspects of the work which we have often seen performed ineffectively, even by professionals.

Please keep in mind, as discussed above, that this article assumes a certain level of basic knowledge about the issue. See Sewage Remediation Suggestions for Effective Cleaning.

See links below for information provided by organizations who know how to this work safely and effectively:

FEMA:  Cleaning Flooded Buildings

FEMA:  The ABC’s of Returning to Flooded Buildings

EPA:  Draft Report of Flood-Related Cleaning

CDC:  Recommendations for the Cleaning and Remediation of Flood-Contaminated HVAC Systems

HUD:  A Field Guide for Clean-Up of Flooded Homes

OSHA Hurricane Fact Sheet:  Fungi Hazards and Flood Cleanup

Red Cross:  Repairing Your Flooded Home

The Hartford:  After the Flood – Safety Tips for Business Owners

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