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FEMA warns of lingering hazards from West Virginia flooding

A young girl picks her way through mud following flooding in Mingo County, W.Va., in May. (Steven W. Rotsch/West Virginia Governor's Office)

A young girl picks her way through mud fol­low­ing flood­ing in Min­go Coun­ty, W.Va., in May. (Steven W. Rotsch/West Vir­ginia Gov­er­nor’s Office)

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.

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

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