Rick BissonAs floodwaters from Harvey withdraw and the owners of more than 100,000 flooded homes are assessing the damage, Hurricane Irma is hitting the southeast. Although those of us in the Midcoast region are more than a thousand miles away from these affected areas, we share a responsibility to help our fellow citizens whose lives and homes have been impacted. To do so, we must fully understand what those affected by Harvey and Irma face post-storm.

To ensure the safety of the home and its occupants, and for the best outcome possible with the insurance company, the first 24 hours after the flood are crucial. Pictures must be taken for the insurance company before any water is removed or repairs are made. Even if the water in the home is clear, waders and gloves should be worn as it could be contaminated by sewage or household chemicals. Electricity must be turned off to avoid electrocution and gas lines shut off to avoid leaks and/or explosions. Sump pumps and wet vacs will have to be purchased, borrowed or rented to remove any standing water.

Mold can develop within 24 to 48 hours of a flood, so wet contents must be removed immediately.

The American Red Cross’ pamphlet “Repairing Your Flooded Home” cautions individuals against the desire to salvage certain personal items. When it comes to items soaked by floodwaters, the following should usually be thrown out: Mattresses, pillows, large carpets, carpet padding, upholstered couches and chairs, books and paper products.

The following should always be thrown out: Food, cosmetics, medical supplies, stuffed animals and baby toys.

“The damage to the houses is going to be tremendous,” said Jean-Pierre Bardet, a geotechnical engineer and dean of engineering at the University of Miami.

The American Red Cross states that “Floodwaters affect a home three ways: 1. The water damages materials. Wallboard will disintegrate if it remains wet too long; wood can swell, warp, or rot; electrical parts can short out, malfunction, and cause fires or shock. 2. Mud, silt, and unknown contaminants in the water not only get everything dirty; they also create a health hazard. 3. Dampness promotes the growth of mildew, a mold or fungus that can grow on everything.”

“A high water depth doesn’t mean the home is destroyed,” states Claudette Hanks Reichel of Louisiana State University’s Agricultural Center, who has written disaster recovery material for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “But if a house was already structurally compromised by decay, termites or very poor construction, then the flood could be the last straw.”

If foundation or basement walls crack, they’ll probably need to be replaced. This is both expensive and difficult. In most cases, it would make more sense to tear down the home than to try to repair it. Some regulations may require the basement to be filled in and the home to be raised higher off the ground. This expense makes trying to salvage the home even less worthwhile.

“The deeper the water, the more extensive and expensive the restoration project,” said Reichel, “It’s not just the cost, it’s the ordeal, and the time and competing for contractors and materials. It’s a horrendous, stressful situation.”

Those who choose to fix their homes should seize the opportunity to make their houses more resistant to future floods. Here are a few recommendations: Rebuilding the house at least two feet higher off the ground than the area’s zoning requires; using closed-cell foam insulation and flood-damage resistant sheathing and wallboard when restoring walls; choosing flooring that is made of ceramic tile with water-resistant mortar, interlocking tile, concrete or other nonporous material; and elevating important items off the ground.

The road ahead for those affected by Harvey and Irma is a long and strenuous one. It will take these areas months to recover if not years to recuperate fully. Citizens and organizations across the nation are continuing to step forward with financial support and on-the-ground relief.

Keller Williams Realty International has partnered with the Salvation Army and sent three semi-trucks toting generators, supplies and tools to affected areas. Keller Williams is also transforming its annual gathering Mega Camp into Mega Relief – a week-long event focused on providing immediate aid to those impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

Organizations from around the world are teaming up with community partners to make a major impact in the lives of those affected. You, too can make a difference. Every dollar and act of service directed to Hurricane Harvey and Irma relief makes a difference.

This column is produced by Rick Bisson and his family, who own Bisson Real Estate with Keller Williams Realty of Midcoast and Sugarloaf.