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How to clean up your home after a flood | Stuff.co.nz Facebook Twitter WhatsApp Reddit Email Stuff Facebook Twitter WhatsApp Reddit Email Facebook Twitter Snapchat Shielded Site

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If your house has flooded, once Civil Defence says you can return, you’re in a race against mould.

Hundreds of evacuated residents in North Canterbury don’t know what they’ll be coming home to when the deluge of rain in the region ends.

Monday saw a second day of heavy rain that caused rivers to swell and neighbourhoods flood in parts of the region, before a state of emergency was declared after Ashburton, Timaru and Selwyn made similar declarations on Sunday.

The downpour has been called a one-in-100-year event, pushing stopbanks to their limit, causing road closures, power cuts, and the urgent evacuation of more than 240 homes in North Canterbury, and the entire small town of Springfield in the Selwyn district.

READ MORE: * Canterbury flooding: What you need to know * Canterbury floods: More stress for communities already hit by fires, quakes * Hundreds of homes evacuated as North Canterbury river levels rise * Insurers won't know cost of Canterbury floods for some weeks * Sewage mixing with floodwater after Ashburton water treatment plant floods

Insurers won't know the full cost of the floods for some weeks, but are encouraging people to take stock of the damage and get in contact as soon as possible.

Evacuees should only return home after Civil Defence and emergency services have told them it is safe to do so.

Here is how to salvage or toss everything, from flooring and food to furniture and clothes when the waters have receded.

First thing first. “Look before you step. After a flood, the ground and floors may be slippery or covered with debris, including broken bottles and nails," advises the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).

Contact insurance

If your property is damaged, NEMA says to contact your insurance company as soon as possible and do not dispose of anything beforehand. If you rent the property, contact your landlord as well.

"Floods can leave vast damage in their wake and your insurer is there to support you and help you get back on your feet," says Tim Grafton, chief executive Insurance Council of NZ.

"But the support isn’t limited just to the inevitable clean-up. Most home and contents policies include a temporary accommodation benefit that will help those whose homes are uninhabitable due to damage from this event. If you’re in this situation, ask your insurer what support you may be eligible for."

With 127 millimetres of rain falling in the city between noon Saturday and 5pm on Monday, safety is the priority.

"Do not do anything that puts your safety at risk or may cause more damage to your property. This means that if your car has been submerged in water don’t turn it on or attempt to drive it. Similarly, if water enters your house be sure to turn off the electricity to avoid short-circuits sparking fires and don’t use any appliances that may have been water damaged,” Grafton adds.

It may be hard emotionally, but if you want to file an insurance claim, make sure you record all the damage with clear pictures and thorough notes. This will help speed up the assessments of your claims.

Wear protection and hire help

Before you set about tackling a cleanup, know that severe damage calls for a professional.

They have the heavy-duty equipment needed to remove water and test for mould.

“Make your home safe and sanitary but don’t do non-essential repairs,” said Grafton.

Instead, get essential services repaired and keep copies of invoices. Any issues with walls and floors should be professionally handled, but you should be able to manage the effects of minor flooding yourself. Keep an eye out for water spots that could indicate roofing damage.

In the meantime, keep anyone with asthma, allergies, or compromised immune systems out of the house because mould, cleaning chemicals, and sewage in storm runoff could make them sick.

Flood waters ferry all the gross stuff from storm drains, ditches and sewers, and can leave mud and toxic substances behind in the house. Wear protective gear before attempting to move anything out of the wet, including long pants and sleeves, boots, gloves and masks, in case you’re exposed to hazardous material.

Dry out the home as quickly as possible

You have to assume that mould is growing after a flood.

“Mould is very tricky because you clean what you see, you don't clean what you don’t see,” said Dr Mikael Boulic, senior lecturer in building technology and public health from Massey University.

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Mould grows according to temperature and relative humidity and often it is invisible. Your most effective weapon against it is to dry the house out as soon as possible.

If you have power, turn on your air conditioner, a dehumidifier, and/or every fan you own. Keep the windows closed if you have a dehumidifier and an air conditioner to help the air circulate inside and get rid of excess moisture.

Keep your windows open if you have only fans, and if there is no power and weather permits, open all your windows and doors to create airflow.

Boulic recommends using an 80 per cent white vinegar and 20 per cent water to wipe walls and surfaces down instead of bleach.

“Bleach is a nasty product. Vinegar and water will do the same job, but is much less harmful.”

Then, get a lab to take a sample and find out what the mould damage is and in severe cases, ideally do that before you move back in.

Salvage and discard

If any household items, such as pieces of furniture or carpeting, have been damaged, and you can’t clean and dry them within 24 to 48 hours of your house being flooded, discard them, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.

Chances are these items already harbour mould and can’t be saved. If there’s any item of value that has to be discarded, take a photo of it for your insurance claim.

“Throw away any wooden spoons, plastic utensils, and baby bottle teats and dummies if they have been covered by floodwater. There is no way to safely clean them," says NEMA, and “disinfect metal pans and utensils by boiling them in clean water."

Removable carpets and rugs can be sent out for professional cleaning.

Unfortunately, installed carpeting (and the underlay underneath) that's been immersed in water can't be adequately cleaned and should be thrown away. It may be necessary to pull the carpeting up to thoroughly dry, or replace, the padding to prevent mould.

If only part of the carpeting got wet, use a wet-dry vacuum to remove as much water as possible before calling professional cleaners, or cleaning and rinsing with an extraction cleaner. Fans will speed up drying.

“Take out everything that is wet and that can be moved – floor coverings, furniture, bedding, clothing, and put them outside to dry when the weather is fine," says the Ministry of Health.

“In a basement, wash or flush down walls, shelves and floors with clear water and sweep to remove contaminated water and sediment.”

Then rinse in a solution of 1 litre of household bleach in 10 litres of water for 30 minutes. Rinse again with clear water, and “use plenty" of hot water and soap for final cleanup.

Thoroughly brush off and wash solid wooden furniture outdoors with a mild soapy water solution. Upholstered furniture can go to the professional cleaners as well, but anything that can't be cleaned and disinfected will have to go, including mattresses.

“Check for trapped water and mud in wall cavities, as well as under shower trays, baths, benches and bottom shelves. You may have to chisel out some bricks at the bottom of brick veneer walls. Remove skirting, if necessary, and cut out softened plaster board in damaged areas. Consult an expert such as an insurance assessor or builder,” the ministry continues.

They recommend replacing wall linings and floor coverings only after things have dried out, and leave any redecorating for at least three months after the repairs to avoid mould, blistering and peeling.

If there are signs that the house has moved on its foundations (buckled floors, new cracks in walls, or out of shape door frames), you will need to consult an engineer.

Food safety

If your power has been off for more than four hours, toss perishables like meat, dairy and leftovers. It's OK to save condiments. Freezer contents are safe for about 48 hours, if the freezer is full. If only half-full, you've got 24 hours.

Throw away food and drinking water that has come into contact with floodwater, including canned goods, and all foods in the fridge that were unrefrigerated.

“Avoid drinking or preparing food with tap water until you are certain it is not contaminated. Follow any boil water notice instructions from your local authorities," says NEMA.

The Ministry of Health says you need to destroy all unpackaged food and food items packed in paper, cardboard or non-waterproof material that have been exposed directly to the floodwater.

You can save foods in airtight containers, but make sure to scrub and wash them in soapy water and a bleach/water solution first.

Don’t forget to wash and disinfect your can opener, and if in doubt, throw out. Sadly, that applies for any garden produce in soil that got flooded, too. But if you sprinkle lime on waterclogged soil, that will help it dry out faster.

Electrical safety

“If your house has been flooded check with your gas and electricity provider prior to using your utilities, when you return to your property," said a Fire and Emergency spokesperson.

Check your small appliances like toasters and coffee machines over to see if the wires are frayed or exposed. For large appliances like fridges and washing machines, call an electrician to check the safety of the connections.

For at least two weeks, do not light fires in brick fireplaces, and then use only small fires until the firebricks have dried out, recommends the Ministry of Health.

One last friendly reminder: If the power is still out, and you're relying on a charcoal grill or camp stove for cooking, you need to beware of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Don't even think about firing it up indoors. Small grills and portable generators in enclosed spaces can produce lethal levels of colourless and odourless gas.