SEA ISLE CITY — Keith Smith returned to his 40th Street home Thursday and found his garage filled with ruined stuff: a record player, an arcade machine, a refrigerator, much more.
He can accept that all these things were ruined in the storm brought by Hurricane Sandy; they are all replaceable.
His home, however, is another matter. His top priority is now bleaching and power-washing the garage to prevent mold.
Mold is a widespread concern, but even before homeowners start drying out their houses and household items, experts warn, they should make sure their structures are safe.
Checking for gas leaks, looking for any precarious supports and turning off the electricity should be the top items on a checklist if returning to a flooded home for the first time.
Susan Houde, president and owner of Delta Line Construction in Egg Harbor Township, said main circuit breakers should be turned off, and residents still without power should refrain from using candles — lighting a match could start a fire if there are gas leaks. LED lanterns are safer.
Appliances that have been submerged in water, especially baseboard heaters, are generally no longer usable, even if the water wasn’t very deep, Houde said.
“The most important thing you can do is keep away from any standing water with live electrics. That’s why circuits have to be shut off,” Houde said.
Frank O’Brien was not quite ready to lose the antique refrigerator in his garage in Sea Isle, though. He raised it nearly two feet off the ground before leaving ahead of Sandy, but it wasn’t enough.
“They don’t make them like that anymore. It gets colder than anything else, and the insulation’s better,” he explained.
So, he opened his garage to let it air out, which he said worked before. Letting items air dry can cut down on mold growth, as well as dehumidifying an indoor area. Removing any standing water is obviously the first step.
Water has not been residents’ only problem from the historic storm surges seen Monday night and Tuesday morning. Many people have returned to see significant sand, debris and mud in their property.
Before attempting to clean, property owners should put on a face mask, rubber gloves and boots to protect themselves from contamination. A good disinfectant is a cup of bleach mixed with a gallon of water and left to dissolve for 10 minutes.
Those who aren’t up to the task themselves can call a local contractor to handle cleanup. People can also call the state’s 211 hotline.
Bernie Smith and Frank Betsch were in different stages of cleaning their 40th Street homes on Thursday morning. Betsch got back first and his garage smelled like bleach, but Smith still had plenty of mud on his first floor.
“Ah, that wonderful smell,” Betsch joked after poking his head in the doorway.
If an interior still smells after removing water and drying a room, machines that use ozonated oxygen to get odors out of porous surfaces can help.
Anything saturated, such as drywall, should also be removed. That was the project Lindsay Jackson, who also lives on 40th, was dreading.
She said their home had about two feet of flooding. Besides wetting the drywall, it soaked a box of family heirlooms.
“I’m going to try and dry it out, but that’s a big bummer,” she said.
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