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Threat of mold lurks after flooding from a tropical storm or hurricane

By Todd Wiley, Vice President, CAT Operations, Zurich North America -- July 16, 2019

Tropical Storm Barry was the first to threaten the U.S. in the 2019 season. It won’t be the last. If flooding occurs, act quickly to avoid mold damage.

mold damage

Elvira Koneva/Shutterstock.com

Whatever the strength of a tropical storm or hurricane, lingering rain can lead to flooding and water damage, particularly in low-lying areas. And when floodwaters meet summer heat, mold may develop.

While controlling and mitigating mold damage is relatively straightforward, the rapid growth of mold after floodwaters seep into a property can create tremendous setbacks to storm recovery. If interiors remain wet for as little as 48 hours, mold can begin forming, particularly in porous materials such as ceiling tiles. What started as a cleanup job can escalate, with the possible need for removing and replacing drywall, carpeting, cabinetry and flooring, which can prolong business interruption or force residents to move out of their homes.

Costs can quickly spiral and project timelines stretch, particularly if contractors are in high demand in the area. Many businesses and residents in the paths of past Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, Florence and Michael are still painfully aware of that. See our post-Florence report for lessons learned from that event.


One challenge to stopping the spread of mold is that even for businesses and residents who are well informed and well equipped to start flood cleanup after a major storm, conditions such as power outages, road closures and safety concerns (e.g., downed powerlines) can cause delays. If evacuations were ordered, no one should return to a flooded property until local authorities have declared it safe to do so.

But you don’t have to wait for the all-clear to begin making progress.

 

Book mitigation services


Owners of larger properties and/or those impacted by unclean water or sewage should book an appointment with a mitigation services provider or restoration contractor as soon as possible to assess needs. Insurance providers that specialize in property coverages sometimes may have professional service agreements in place with mitigation companies and can offer referrals.

Zurich’s agreements with its preferred vendors require the service provider to contact the customer within minutes of receiving the referral and to inspect the property within hours under normal circumstances. Our Claims professionals offer those contacts when a customer calls to file a claim, which you should do as soon as you can even if you don’t know the full extent of the damage. Good claims professionals can help you get the ball rolling in the right direction.

 

Round up fans and dehumidifiers


Smaller businesses or residents affected by flooding can gather tools and supplies such as electric fans, portable dehumidifiers and water vacuums to dry out smaller areas once it’s safe to begin using them as directed (i.e., no standing water). A generator may be useful if power outages are occurring. With all of these appliances, be aware of safety precautions and heed instruction manuals. Also, note that for these appliances to be useable, they need to be dry, so store them where they’re less likely to be touched by floodwaters.


Snap photos before cleanup


When you’re cleared to be on the property, snap photos of conditions before you begin removing wet items and water to help in insurance claims reporting. See if you can observe where and how water entered the property for possible retrofits during cleanup.

Once water has drained, disinfectants such as bleach with water (never mix bleach with ammonia) can be used to clean surfaces. Dry them thoroughly afterward. Make sure areas are well-ventilated, and if your HVAC is functional, blast the air conditioning to help reduce humidity and prevent mold. Bring plenty of bottled water so you can stay hydrated.


As you think ahead, keep in mind possible ways to build back better with materials such as mold/moisture-resistant drywall.

For now, whether you do it yourself or book mold remediation services, put safety first while acting as quickly as possible to remove wet items and dry the area out. The longer water sits, and the more moisture is exposed to heat, the more fertile the breeding ground is for mold, which can aggravate asthma or other respiratory issues in addition to damaging property.

The best time to prepare for flooding is before it happens. Wherever you’re located, take this opportunity to consult our Guide to Flood Emergency Response Plans.

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