FEMA warns of lingering hazards from West Virginia flooding
MECHANICSVILLE, Va. — The Federal Emergency Management Agency warned residents of flood-stricken areas of southern West Virginia that, even though the water has gone, lingering threats remain.
Heavy rains triggered flash flooding in southern West Virginia on Friday, May 8, and Saturday, May 9. More than 300 buildings were destroyed, mud and debris littered miles of the landscape, and West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin declared a state of emergency in six counties. Mingo and Wyoming counties were hardest hit. President Barack Obama issued a disaster declaration for those two counties as well as McDowell and Raleigh counties.
The initial focus — beyond saving life and limb — was on drying out, cleaning up, and repairing structures that could be saved. As people return to their homes, however, FEMA warned of two potential threats that are not so easily noticed.
On Monday, the agency issued an statement warning those who rely on private wells for water that some of those wells may have been contaminated during the flooding. FEMA recommended that well owners get their water supply inspected and tested if their wells were either flooded or near a flooded area; or if they have noticed a change in water quality — such as odor or taste — in their well water since the May flooding event.
Individuals in the four counties covered by the disaster declaration may be eligible for federal aid to repair or decontaminate damaged or compromised wells.
Flood Disaster Links:
Designated Counties for West Virginia Severe Storms, Flooding, Mudslides, and Landslides
FEMA May Help In Repair Of Disaster-Damaged Private Wells
FEMA: Beware Of Mold In Flooded Homes
USEPA: Mold Resources
WV Governor’s Office: Mingo County Flood Tour 2009
The other potential problem FEMA warned of is one that can grow on you — mold. Damp environments, such as those found in water-damaged buildings, offer excellent conditions for the growth of fungi like molds. Presence of mold can be indicated by fuzzy growth on or discoloration of walls, floors, and other surfaces; it can also be indicated by a musty, unpleasant odor. Mold spores may trigger respiratory problems, such as allergy and asthma attacks. People with chronic respiratory problems are advised to avoid contact with molds.
FEMA offered the following advice to those planning or conducting a mold cleanup: 1) maintain good ventilation while cleaning; 2) avoid use of air conditioning until the system has been checked by a professional, as the air conditioning system may spread mold spores throughout the building; 3) discard moldy, porous materials — including insulation, mattresses, upholstery, and ceiling tiles; 4) scrub mold off hard surfaces such as tiles or floors with household detergent and water and dry thoroughly, preferably using fans to speed the drying process; and 5) clean and dry moldy surfaces before attempting to paint or caulk them.
In its press release, FEMA cited U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidance for anyone going into a mold-infested building — wear rubber gloves, goggles, and use an N-95 respirator, all of which can be found at hardware or home-improvement stores.
— David M. Lawrence