Flood waters bring health risks

Water surrounds this car parked between Spring and South streets in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

Water contamination and mold concerns follow in the wake of flash floods. But health concerns begin with the first wave of flood damage.

Water dangers

Floods pose the most risk to those who try wading into rough waters, said Dr. Charles Devine III, health director for the Lord Fairfax Health District.

“First thing is to not enter the floodwater,” he said. “Floodwaters that are moving are incredibly powerful.”

Still, he said even shallow water can be sufficiently deep enough to sweep a car off the road. It also hides unseen dangers that can cause bodily injury.

An emergency room doctor for many years, Devine said, “I have a built-in paranoia for cut feet.”

“You don’t know what’s in there, so you want to wear some protective footwear,” Devine said.

Those who suffer injuries while cleaning up after a flood should have a booster tetanus shot to prevent the spread of bacteria, he said. Tetanus shots should be repeated every 10 years.

After a flood, he said excess water should be removed since stagnant water can become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Home damage

Water and electricity are a deadly combination. Devine cautioned homeowners to shut off electricity to flooded areas and not restore it until the areas are dry.

If flooding is significant, he said an electrician should determine whether or not it’s safe to restore power to the structure.

Mold is also a threat in damp areas, so residents with flooded homes should work to remove the water as quickly as possible.

Use pumps and wet vacuums to remove water quickly, and follow up with fans and dehumidifiers to dry out any remaining moisture.

Those who are home in the immediate aftermath of a flood can start remediation plans right away, but for those away for several days after a flood, mold can be a real issue.

Affecting people differently, mold can cause irritated eyes and skin, stuffy noses and wheezing. Some are more susceptible than others, Devine said.

“After a flood type situation, you can’t predict what type of mold might be present,” he said.

“Part of removing the water is removing everything that’s wet,” he said. All porous items like rugs and floor padding should be removed and dried out, he said.

“Even if it’s not visibly wet after the flood, if it remains damp, it’s going to be a source for mold growth,” said Devine.

Water contamination

Because storm runoff can contaminate water supplies with sewage, Devine said it’s important to know your water source.

Residents on a town or county water system will receive notices from their company informing them of water concerns.

But those on a well system will have to investigate things themselves. He said the water supply should be fine if waters don’t rise above the wellhead, which is typically higher than 18 inches.

Flood insurance

Accessible and coordinated through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, flood insurance can be a great relief to those surprised by a flood, said Amy Smith, office manager at Aimonetti Insurance in Woodstock.

“‘Cause everyone’s in a flood zone,” she said.

Those in standard flood zones could pay a lot more for insurance, but she said policies are available to anyone in the United States.

However, flood insurance only covers certain types of floods. Water must originate from outside the home, Smith said, and the flood must affect at least 16 acres.

Homeowners insurance should cover a flood that happens in the home, though Smith said she wasn’t aware of any insurance that would cover a flood of less than 16 acres.

New policyholders must wait 30 days before their insurance will take effect.

For more information on national flood insurance, call 800-611-6122 or visit https://www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program. Contact Aimonetti Insurance in Woodstock at 540-459-2220 or Winchester at 540-931-0008.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com