- Get the all-clear signal to go back!
If you have been evacuated to a camp, it would be wise to stay there till the local authorities say that it is safe for you to go back home. Road conditions would have changed; some roads may be still flooded, while others may be blocked due to landslides. Bridges may have caved in. Listen to news reports that give updates on routes that are safe to take. Be patient…movement may be slow, as everyone will be trying to get back home as well, just like you are!
- Stock up on supplies
Ideally, you should try to get enough groceries for a couple of days after you return. Stores near your home may not be open, and home deliveries are unlikely to have resumed their services. Bring just essential supplies that must include medicines, bottled water and non-perishable food. Consider filling up fuel in your car as well, on the way, for any emergency needs. If you find any ATMs that have money, withdraw and keep some cash with you.
- Always take along one other adult with you when you first enter your home
The water could have extensively damaged your home, and weakened the structure quite a bit. Walls can still collapse, gas pipes could be leaking and plenty of other things could go wrong. In an emergency, you should have one other person with you who could take you to safety if required.
- Before you touch anything in your home, take pictures
You should have pictures of the outside and inside of your home, in order to claim any insurance (if applicable) or for experts to determine the likely damage to the structure of your house. Take clear photos of the foundation, walls, windows, and roof.
Look for any cracks in the structure and take pictures. You will be able to check later and assess whether the cracks have deepened or widened, which is a sign of structural distress. Mark the level to which the water has risen on the walls. This will be helpful for electricians, plumbers and other service men when they examine any damage that has happened within the walls.
- Protect yourself!
Wear a mask and gloves. The waters and debris can be full of contaminants which can cause disease and infection. If you find any dead bodies of animals, do not handle them with your bare hands.
- Check the electricity and water connections
While the electricity is most likely to be turned off, make sure that you switch off the mains to your house before you enter. Look for loose or exposed electric lines. It is best that an electrician should check the lines before you switch it on again, as otherwise you could get a bad electric shock.
The water which may be coming through the pipes could be muddy or contaminated, so make sure to check before you start using it.
- Look for unusual smells
Smell the air for any gas leakage or the putrid odour of decomposing food. Food that has been rancid for many days may give off noxious fumes, do not stay close to such fumes for too long. In case of gas leaks, make sure that you do not light any flames in that area. Open
the windows for fresh air to enter.
- Look out for wildlife and snakes.
Snakes or other forms of vermin may have taken refuge in corners of your house. Be alert and inspect each room for signs of wildlife. The animals are even more scared than you are and may be aggressive, so be prepared to deal with this.
Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water and are the cause of many diseases like dengue and malaria. Keep mosquito repellent handy at all times, and if you find mosquitoes breeding in water that has not been drained out, add a small amount of oil to the surface of the water. This will prevent their breeding and greatly reduce diseases.
- Maintain strict hygiene
You must wash your hands frequently and have a bath after each cleaning session, in order to rid yourself of all the pollutants and germs that have entered your living spaces. Change into clean washed and dried clothes every day, and do not wear the same clothes again the next day.
Supplies you will need for cleaning
Some of the supplies you will need for cleaning include disposable paper tissues, cleaning towels (which must be washed in disinfectant and dried before the next use) bleach, liquid soap, disinfectant, washing powder, a shovel for clearing the mud, plenty of buckets, a few mops, brooms, first aid supplies and antibacterial soap. If you cut yourself you must apply Dettol at once and use a band aid to prevent further contamination of the wound.
To disinfectant appliances, use 1 cup of bleach in 4 litres of clean water. Unplug your appliances like refrigerator and washing machine and dry them completely, and clean them by wiping two times with disinfectant. Open the doors and leave them to air dry completely.
Once the water in the incoming pipes is clean, you can run one cycle of wash-rinse-and-spin on the washing machine on the hottest, highest setting with 1 cup of bleach and half cup of powdered laundry detergent to clean the hoses. Leave the door open to dry fully.
Clean your furniture in the same manner, wiping down with disinfectant and leaving to dry. Wooden furniture may warp and discolour if allowed to air dry, so try to dry it using dry cloth or paper towels. Mattresses and upholstery that have been soaked in the flood will have to be thrown away as you cannot get them clean.
Ceiling, walls, floors
Start with the ceiling of each room and clean using a wet mop and disinfectant. As soon as the water in the bucket looks muddy, change it. If you have a hose, you can wash down the surfaces and this will be quicker.
Clean the walls next, working from the top down. Leave windows open, and if you have working electricity then run the fan to allow the surfaces to dry. Clean the floors last in the same way. Several rounds of cleaning may be necessary depending on the amount of debris and grime.
Windows and doors
First wipe doors and windows with wet towels, and then wipe down with disinfectant. Allow hard surfaces to air dry. Pay careful attention to all joints and corners. Glass can be made to shine by using glass cleaner.
Kitchen and bathroom
Throw away all food items. Clean all vessels with soap and water and air dry. Wash bathroom tiles with a hose and disinfect all surfaces.
Clothes and shoes
Clothes should first be rinsed in a bucket to remove all traces of mud, before they are laundered in the washing machine. This is so that the machine that you have just cleaned does not again get muddy. Use bleach on all white clothes, towels and sheets. Drying in the sunshine is ideal as sunlight is a natural disinfectant.
Leather shoes cannot be salvaged and will have to be thrown, as even if they are dry the leather can harbour a lot of bacteria and mould which can cause diseases. Canvas or sports shoes can be washed in the washing machine in a separate cycle.
Documents and Papers
To dry valuable books, dry them reasonable well so that the pages will open without tearing, and then place them in the freezer with aluminium foil between pages. After a few days, take them out and replace the aluminium foil with absorbent paper between the pages. Keep changing the paper till all the pages are dry.
Photographs also should be put in the freezer overnight so that they can be separated. If they are still sticking together, place them in a tray of cold water and gently loosen them with your fingers, being careful not to tear them. Once they are separated, dry them with dry paper or cloth. Keep them flat while they are drying so that they do not curl up at the edges.
For important documents that are stuck together also you can use the freezer method. Do not, however, wash them under water if they do not come unstuck as this can cause more damage especially to ink signatures and seals.
Most electronic items will have to be thrown. A good local computer repair store can see if your data can be recovered from the hard drive of your computer.
Leave windows open as much as possible to allow fresh air to circulate. Run fans as much as you can. Take your time to clean, and do a thorough job of cleaning one room at a time. Prioritise the kitchen, bathrooms and one or two bedrooms, and then move on to other areas of the house. While cleaning, do not move around between rooms that have already been cleaned and the rooms that are yet to be cleaned.
Above all, ensure that you stay healthy and prevent the incidence of any waterborne diseases that could come in after the flood. Be alert, and stay safe!