DES MOINES, Iowa -- Disaster officials urge Iowa residents to take extra precautions when returning to flood-damaged homes, apartments or businesses to avoid accidents and injury. The Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division (HSEMD) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) caution that all danger has not passed simply because the water is receding.
Flood hazards leave behind exposed electrical wires, contaminated floodwater and weakened structures. These are not always obvious, but can be life-threatening.
BEFORE ENTERING A BUILDING
• Check the outside of the building: Call your utility company immediately if you see downed power lines, detect gas leaks (Natural gas leaks smell like rotten eggs.) or see water gurgling up from underground.
• Look for external damage: Examine the foundation for cracks or other damage. Inspect porch roofs, overhangs and the foundation. If you find obvious damage, ask a building inspector to check the building before you go inside.
• Enter the building carefully: If the door sticks at the top as it opens, it could mean the ceiling is ready to cave in. Don't walk under a sagging ceiling until it has been checked.
AFTER ENTERING A BUILDING
• Turn off the main electricity breakers and valves for water and gas. Even if the power company has turned off electricity to the area, be sure to disconnect your home's main power supply. Have all utility connections inspected before resuming their use. Do not use appliances or motors that were exposed to water until they have been cleaned and dried.
• Dress for safety. A disposable dust mask will keep out nuisance dust, but consider a specialized mask with changeable filters to filter mold spores (organic vapor), asbestos, lead or other contaminants. Wear safety glasses, leather or rubber gloves and protective shoes (Avoid rubber-soled athletic shoes when walking in or around debris). This will minimize harm to you if you encounter a hazard. Hard hats, long sleeves and pants are encouraged to guard against bumps and scrapes.
• Look before you step: Floors and stairs may be covered with debris and may be very slippery. Watch out for window glass, broken bottles, nails and other hazards.
• Watch for critters: Snakes, skunks, raccoons and other wildlife seeking high ground may choose your home for safety. Proceed with caution to avoid being startled.
• Be alert for gas leaks: Do not strike a match or use an open flame when entering a building unless you know the gas has been turned off and the area has been ventilated. Use a flashlight to inspect for damage, not an open flame.
• Be aware of water-borne health hazards: Floodwaters pick up sewage and chemicals from roads, farms, factories, and storage buildings. Inside the home, any flooded items, such as wallboard and mattresses, will hold mud and contamination forever. Throw them out. Spoiled food, water-logged cosmetics and medicine are also health hazards. When in doubt, throw it out. Don't let children play in standing water following a flood.
CLEANING UP A BUILDING
• Hose the house: Many health hazards are found in the mud and silt that floodwaters leave behind. Shovel as much mud and debris as possible out of the house, then hose it down, inside and out.
• Expect mold growth. Within days of being waterlogged, dry wall, upholstered furniture and wooden fixtures may develop mold or mildew. Mold and mildew can be health hazards. Ask your local health authorities for information on removing mold.
• Carbon monoxide exhaust kills: Do not use camp stoves and charcoal grills indoors. All cooking on camp stoves and charcoal grills should be done outside. Gas and charcoal fumes can be deadly.
• For several days after you return, be on the lookout for any broken utility connections: Broken water or sewer pipes, bent gas pipes and damaged electrical outlets or fixtures can be serious hazard. Get damage repaired as quickly as possible.
WHILE TRAVELING TO AND FROM HOME FOLLOWING A DISASTER
• Beware of water on the road. Water covering the road could hide potholes or washed-away sections of road. Never drive around barriers. Cars are buoyant and can begin to float in less than 24" of water. Turn around. Don't drown. Also, water can rise very quickly. You don't want be caught half way to the other side.
• Sightseeing can be hazardous following a disaster. Consider all downed power lines "live." Broken water lines could undermine roads. Drive defensively. Encourage sightseers to stay away. Even pulling off the road onto soggy road shoulders or medians could lead to an unnecessary tow truck rescue.
• Register with FEMA. Notifying your local government or non-profit organizations about damage to your home does not register you with FEMA. Call toll-free at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362), TTY or 800-462-7585 for those with speech or hearing impairment or go online at www.fema.gov
• If new weather events cause additional damage to your property after you register, call and update you damage report - even after an inspector has visited your property. The federal major disaster declaration for Iowa began May 25 and continues.
FEMA coordinates the federal government's role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from all domestic disasters, whether natural or man-made, including acts of terror.
SBA is the federal government's primary source of money for the long-term rebuilding of disaster-damaged private property. SBA helps homeowners, renters, businesses of all sizes, and private non-profit organizations fund repairs or rebuilding efforts, and cover the cost of replacing lost or disaster-damaged personal property. These disaster loans cover uninsured and uncompensated losses and do not duplicate benefits of other agencies or organizations. For information about SBA programs, applicants may call 800-659-2955 (TTY 800-877-8339).
Disaster recovery assistance is available without regard to race, color, sex, religion, nationality, age, disability, English proficiency, economic status, or retaliation. If you or someone you known has been discriminated against, call FEMA toll-free at 800-621-FEMA (3362). For TTY Call 800-462-7585.
Editors: More information about the Iowa disaster is available online at www.fema.gov