It's been a familiar refrain in the days after Sandy: "My house is fine ... no need to check me."
As the floodwaters from a massive coastal storm receded last week, the quick inspections began.
For some, the damage from the record storm surge was clear: salt water flooded living spaces and ruined cars. But others may be assuming foolishly that their work is done with the cleanup of a ground-level garage. They may be sitting on a growing world of problems.
Experts warn that if floodwaters made it underneath a home or business, the property should be professionally inspected. If storm waters reached insulation, ductwork or electrical equipment, the home could be contaminated by mold, at risk of fire or susceptible to other malfunctions.
"People should not just assume that everything is OK," Ocean City Emergency Management Coordinator Frank Donato said.
The problems start when "black water" — flood waters that can potentially be contaminated by sewage, pesticides, heavy metals and other toxic substances — reach any porous material in a home, according to Nathan Brooks of SouthernCAT Inc., an emergency response contractor.
Drywall, carpets, furniture and flooring material soaked by floodwaters should be removed, Brooks said. But it's often the material hidden below homes — such as ductwork and insulation — that goes uninspected and later leads to a mold contamination problem that can be hard and costly to eliminate and potentially hazardous to health.
SouthernCAT workers donned gloves, goggles and respirators at the Strand 5 cinema on Tuesday as they ripped out theater seats, tore up drywall and removed everything else reached by floodwaters.
"You have to assume it's like a sewage backup," Brooks said.
Brooks emphasized the importance of acting quickly to inspect properties and mitigate the damage. He offered the following guidelines for property owners:
- Damage mitigation is required by virtually every insurance policy and is a critical step in meeting owner responsibilities to proactively manage the loss.
- You should have your property assessed by a contractor who has the tools, equipment and experience to analyze and document potential damage caused by black water. This process is often referred to as moisture mapping.
- Building materials affected by black water should be removed and discarded. This includes porous flooring, drywall and insulation.
- Your property should then be properly dried out using air movement and dehumidification.
- Finally, your interior will need to be decontaminated and cleaned. As a last step in this process, you should apply an anti-microbial agent to all surfaces.
Brooks said his company even performs a "muck-out" — a clearing of potentially contaminated sand from below properties.
He recommended checking for an Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) certificate when seeking a reliable contractor. He also referred to the IICRC website for more information.
In addition to work at the Strand, Brooks' company is working at the Ocean City Tabernacle, Coastal Christian Church and a few restaurants, hotels and stores in town.
Brooks also recommended seeking an inspector before flipping electrical breakers.
"There's an inherent risk with anything submerged in salt water," Ocean City Fire Chief Chris Breunig said.
He urged residents to use caution and seek the help of an electrician or run the risk of a fire.
"We've had hundreds of calls," Breunig said of responses related to electrical problems and fires since Sandy arrived on Oct. 29.