Recovery from Hurricane Florence

A week after Hurricane Florence passed through North and South Carolina, rivers are still above flood stage, schools are still closed and owners are still assessing the damage. The number of homes flooded will be in the low six figures – not as many as from Hurricane Harvey (over 200,000) or Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (close to 1 million). But Hurricane Florence is still a catastrophe for the communities affected. Unlike Harvey in Houston or Katrina in New Orleans, damage from Florence is mostly rising water – not covered by home insurance. About two-thirds of homes affected by Hurricane Florence have no coverage. That’s going to complicate and delay recovery from Hurricane Florence.

Water damage to a flooded building is progressive. The longer a building stays wet, the more damage is done. Owners can limit the loss by drying out a home in the first 72 hours.
  • Wallboard disintegrates. Wood swells, warps and rots. Electrical connections corrode and short out. Fiber insulation loses nearly all insulating value.
  • Mud, silt and contaminants create a health hazard. After 72 hours, OSHA considers stagnant flood waters to be toxic.
  • Dampness promotes growth of mildew, mold and fungus, especially in warm weather.
Limit the Damage

Start recovery as soon as floodwaters are gone. Begin at the exterior. Check the building perimeter for a gas leak, toxics (such as a sewage spill) or a downed power line. Check for obvious structural damage: a cracked foundation, framing that’s collapsed or subsiding.

Turn off the power at the main breaker, even if power is already off in the neighborhood. You don’t want power to come back on without warning while work is under way. Turn off gas at the meter. Close the valve to any fuel oil or propane tank. Be alert for leaking water pipes. If necessary, shut off the water valve at the main.

Start interior work by checking the ceiling. Look for anything likely to collapse. Wet plaster or wallboard is dangerous when it falls. Check for loose flooring, cabinets or tall furniture that might be ready to fall. Remove mirrors and heavy pictures from wet walls. They won’t stay up for long on saturated wallboard.

Unplug all appliances and lamps. Remove the cover plates on wall switches and outlets that got wet. Either disconnect the wiring or leave the wires connected and pull the fixture out of the box.

Secure valuables. Wash and dry high value items (securities and jewelry) and anything irreplaceable. Put saturated photographs, art, and valuable papers in a freezer until you have time to blow-dry each item. Pack room contents in cardboard cartons. You’ll need several box sizes, including wardrobe boxes, bubble wrap and sealing tape. Label each box and keep a written inventory.

Relocate heavy items. The best choice will be to a second floor or a storage container placed temporarily in the driveway. If there’s going to be a delay in moving some heavy items, set foam blocks or plastic sheeting under legs or supports to eliminate contact with anything that’s wet. Moisture will wick up wood furniture legs, discoloring the wood as it goes. If appliances and plumbing fixtures have to be moved, cap waste and supply lines (water, electric and gas). If a water heater has to be moved, start draining the tank right away.

Then get the mud and debris out. Remove saturated wallboard, carpet, pad, cabinets and furnishings. Shovel or squeegee as much mud as possible. If you have water pressure, hose out the interior. Clean the mud out of electrical outlets, switch boxes and light sockets. Pile debris by the street. FEMA has a program to reimburse flooded communities for debris removal.

Remove the vents and registers from a flooded HVAC system. Duct in a flooded basement or crawl space will be contaminated. Remove a section of duct to get access to all areas. Then thoroughly wash out all flooded duct. When the mud is out, clean the duct with a disinfectant or sanitizer.

Get Professional Help

Full recovery will usually require both a building permit and a building contractor. Some communities require a sign-off by the building inspector before repairs can start on a flooded building. When flood damage exceeds 50 percent of the market value of a home, the building department may require demolition and rebuilding above flood level. The code in some flood-prone areas may not permit rebuilding at all.

Contractors in North Carolina don’t need a license for jobs under $30,000. South Carolina requires most residential contractors to register with the state. But no license is required for general contractors.

Whether licensed or not, the best protection when hiring any professional is a good contract. And the best contract writing app is Construction Contract Writer. The trial version is free. For the complete “how-to” of flood recovery and mold remediation, including cost estimates, see chapter 19 of the National Home Improvement Estimator. The trial version is also free.