And then it was brought to our attention that the creek that runs through the property holds 18 feet of water before it floods. They were predicting 27 feet! We live on a big piece of property next to our daughter. When there was flooding last year, our homes sat like islands in the midst of the water but they didn't flood. This time, with so much more water, it was likely that they would.
At 9 pm on Saturday, with Harvey about to hit Corpus Christi, we made the decision to leave. We packed bags and moved things to countertops and beds that might get wet if we flooded. I grabbed my notebook of important documents and took it with me in case the house was totally destroyed. I thought I was prepared. By 10 pm we walked out the door and headed for a hotel about 10 miles away.
As predicted, the creek went out of its banks and flooded our property. The water got to within an inch or two of going into our homes. Thank goodness these homes are built up about 5 feet or they would both have been total losses. The barn, although it sits on higher ground, is not built up, and about 4' of water got inside. This isn't a barn for animals, but has been used for storage. I have one room designated for food storage and survival items, and while I was concerned, I knew that most of the food would be okay because it's either sealed in five gallon buckets or #10 cans.
We evacuated on Saturday night and couldn't get back to the property until Wednesday, so the water had been inside the barn and left its residue for four days. I was shocked to open the door to my room and see all the tubs and buckets scattered everywhere. The water had just picked them up and dropped them again.
In starting to clean up, here's what I discovered:
1. The 5-gallon buckets that had been sealed properly were fine. I've learned that the food should not be affected if I wash the buckets off and submerge each one in a solution of bleach/water for 10-15 minutes.
2. The twisty lids that allow you easy access also allow water and air inside. Fortunately, I only had one of those in the barn filled with pasta. I keep one under my cabinet in the house for flour because I go through about 25# of flour every month or so. I like to bake bread.
3. The typical tubs often have holes underneath the handles, so if water gets up to that point, the inside will fill with water. I had stored bags of organic sugar in one of my tubs and had to throw them all away. Even if the tubs don't have the air holes, and even if they do have the latch that holds the lid secure, it won't keep water out. I've spent many hours using the Shop Vac to remove the water just so that the tub is light enough that I can lift it.
4. Everything in the room is covered with silt, or dried dirt that remained. The floor is slick and slimy.
5. Even though my 5-gallon buckets were neatly stacked, the water was strong enough to move them.
6. I'm really glad that our sleeping bags and camping equipment was on the top of the shelf in trash bags. Another bag of extra pillows was not so lucky because trash bags just don't keep water out.
We are still waiting for the flood insurance adjuster to come out, but here's what I've been doing in the meantime.
1. Removing water with the Shop Vac from the tubs,
2. Carrying the flooded tubs/boxes outside in hopes that the sun will dry them out,
3. Removing as much water as possible from the floor. I can already see damage to the walls, and they will all have to be removed, but I wanted to get the water out so it wouldn't cause further damage. Am glad we don't have carpet to remove.
4. Using fans and dehumidifiers. I have a dehumidifier going in that room, and also have a ceiling fan. I have to dump the water in that dehumidifier at least once a day.
5. Keeping the doors open during the day to let air flow. Air is your friend at this point, and if it's moving, even better.
These items have been valuable to me in the cleanup:
N95 masks. It just is not safe to breathe the air around this toxic flood water. If you're removing sheet rock, it's not safe to breathe the toxic dust that's in the room, either. Make sure they are N95. This one has that extra filter in the center, but not all of them do. We were fortunate enough to have a couple of boxes of these in our supplies, and I've been told there is nowhere to buy them in Houston now.
If you have allergy problems, I'd also be sure to take your allergy meds. I also walked away from the barn, removed the mask, and took deep breaths of fresh air occasionally just because the smell is nauseating. It's hard to get it out of your lungs, and I swear, you can even taste it.
Gloves. I've been wearing TWO of these gloves and also a pair of leather work gloves on top. The other night I cut my finger while chopping potatoes and I was worried about that contaminated water getting into that cut. I applied Melaleuca oil to the cut, covered the cut with a bandage, and took the extra precaution to wear two gloves. Each time I went back to the house, I washed my hands again and reapplied the oil, bandage, and got new gloves. I've heard too many stories about people getting really sick, or even losing body parts because of the contaminated water. I wore the leather gloves over the nitrile just to get a better grip. (I'm allergic to latex, so that's why I use the nitrile. Latex works, too.)
Choose your shoes wisely. Rain boots may not be comfortable when you're on your feet all day, but at least wear a pair of sturdy shoes that will not only protect your feet but help keep them dry. Remember that you are working in or around contaminated water. We joined a work crew through our church on Sunday and helped remove sheet rock and cabinets from a house. At that point the house was dry, so I wore tennis shoes. Had it not been for some arch supports I stuck in those shoes that morning, I'd have spent the day at the emergency room. They were removing cabinets, and nails were sticking up out of the floor. I didn't see them and stepped right down on one. I took my shoe off to see if it broke the skin, and there was a hole on the inside of the shoe, but it didn't reach my foot. Lessons learned. Pay attention and be safe.
On the topic of clothing, I'd also wear long pants and long sleeved shirts. Anything that helps put a barrier between you and the water, sheetrock, or fiberglass will help.
Bug Spray. When you have lots of water, you have mosquitoes. While talking about bugs, you may have floating colonies of those fire ants. Another good reason to have boots on. You definitely don't want fire ants on your feet.
Drink plenty of water. Stay hydrated. Working in the heat you'll be sweating a lot. You'll need to replenish the fluids in your body. For now, I'd stick with bottled water. Some water purification plants here in Houston are still under water. We are on a well, and although the water tank has been cleaned and sanitized, we're still being very cautious.
I've noticed that when I open these tubs to remove the water, there's a pink mold already forming. The smell of it is just something I can't even describe. I can see why they tell you to just throw clothing away that's been in that nasty water. Even after taking every precaution to protect myself with mask, gloves and boots, that smell lingers. Last night, after taking a shower, I was snuggling with my six year-old grandson and playing a video game with him. At one point he said, "Nana, you really smell bad." Leave it to him to be totally honest. I knew exactly what he meant. My hands, even after washing them, smelled like that nasty swamp water. I washed them a few more times using scented hand soap and that seemed to help.
One other piece of advice is to let people help you. I'm so impressed with the work our church volunteers are doing. If you see these yellow shirts, Mormon Helping Hands, they are helping at no charge whether you're a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or not. They are touching lives. I worked with this little crew on Sunday and it was so appreciated by the family. The husband was in California, and they also have a child with special needs, so everything had to be handled by the wife.
At the end of the day, there's nothing like a good shower and a nap! The work is exhausting and when you look at the pile of destruction, you'll think it will never end, but I'm attacking it a few hours a day and reminding myself that this is how you eat an elephant. One bite at a time.