Saturday, March 8, 1997
for flood victims

| Checking house | Recording damage | Restoring utilities |
| Furniture | Audio equipment | Automobiles | Trash | Personal items | Pets | Computers |
| Other help |

Check gas, electric, foundation

Dangers lurk for people returning to flood-damaged homes. Before cleaning can begin, precautions must be taken. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross offer these tips:

Have someone with you when you check your home and do repairs.

If there is standing water next to a home's outside walls, don't enter; you won't be able to tell if the building is structurally sound.

Walk around the outside of the home and check for loose power lines; also smell for the putrid odor that indicates a gas leak. If you find either, call your utility company.

Check the foundation for cracks or other damage; examine porch roofs and overhangs. Look for gaps between the steps and the house. If supports or portions of the foundation are missing, the floor probably is not safe; contact a contractor before going in.

Turn off electricity. Even if the power company has turned off electricity, make sure the home's power supply is disconnected, so power won't come on without warning.

Important: If you have to step in water to get to your electric box, call an electrician. If you can turn off power yourself, stand on a dry spot and use a dry wooden stick to pull the fuse box handle to OFF; then use the stick to pull out fuses. If your home has breaker boxes, use the stick to push circuit breakers to OFF.

Turn off gas. If you suspect a leak or smell gas, leave the home immediately and call your gas company. If the gas meter is outside, turn off the gas at the valve next to the gas meter. If the valve is parallel to the pipe, the gas is on. To turn it off, turn the valve 90 degrees (a quarter turn) so the valve is perpendicular to the pipe.

If you have a fuel oil or propane tank, connecting pipes might be broken. Turn off the fuel valve at the tank.

Don't smoke or use candles, gas lanterns or any open flame in the house; there might be explosive gas.

- John Johnston

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Make record of damage

As homeowners clean up, they should make a list of flood damages, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and American Red Cross say. Records will be needed for insurance claims, applications for disaster assistance and income tax deductions. Records should include:

Damage to the building.

Damage to contents.

Receipts for cleanup and restoration expenses, such as materials, labor, equipment rental, receipts for flood-related expenses.

Your insurance agent or adjuster should explain what to do so that losses can be recorded properly. Taking pictures or making videos offers a more complete record. You might be told to keep a sample of some items, such as a piece of carpet or upholstery.

Ask someone to sign your record as a witness.

- John Johnston

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Restoring utilities

Gas and electric service will be restored to flooded areas as quickly as possible after waters recede, Cinergy says.

''We anticipate we will be out in these areas for at least the next two to three weeks,'' says Steve Brash, Cinergy spokesman. This sequen-ce will be followed:

Cinergy workers will turn off gas service as a safety precaution before other services can be restored.

Property must be inspected to ensure that it's safe to restore utilities. Customers should not try to restore gas or electric services until homes have been inspected, Cinergy says.

It is the property owners' responsibility to have flood-damaged equipment and appliances serviced and inspected. To find qualified professionals, check the Yellow Pages under Heating Contractors; Plumbing Contractors; and Electric Contractors.

Some tips from Repairing Your Flooded Home (published by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and American Red Cross) and local electrical, plumbing and heating experts:

Heating/air conditioning/water heaters: Furnaces and duct work should be cleaned and checked by a professional. Water heaters and air conditioners should be serviced. Repairs might be possible, depending on the extent of damage.

Electrical: If water has reached the main breaker or fuse box, wiring or electric outlets, a licensed electrical contractor or electrician should service the system.

If you are comfortable working with electrical fixtures, you can clean flooded circuits before the electrician arrives. To do that:

Make sure the power is off - check the switch at the main breaker or fuse box. Take out the fuses or switch off the breakers to the circuits you will be working on.

Unplug all appliances and lamps and remove all light bulbs. Then remove cover plates to wall switches and outlets that got wet. Pull the receptacle, switch and wires about 2 inches from the box, but don't remove electrical connections.

Hose or wash mud out of the boxes.

Water: If you're unsure of the safety of your water supply, use it only to hose your home or for sanitation purposes, such as flushing the toilet. Remove faucet aerators and clean them or replace. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using toilets and call a plumber.

Septic systems: Septic tanks likely will have to be pumped by a professional; aeration system motors will need to be serviced.

- John Johnston

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Furniture Much of it will have to be scrapped

Unless you've developed a serious sentimental attachment or invested a small fortune in river-soaked upholstered furniture, mattresses and fabrics, consider them somebody else's problem. They aren't reusable.

If it has been under water long enough to become saturated, absorbent furnishings should be scrapped, experts say, because of the bacteria drawn from contaminated water. Thorough cleaning is either impossible or prohibitively expensive.

''You have to treat this water as sewage backup,'' says Tom Hudepohl, restoration manager at Security Amirkhanian in Bond Hill. ''The important thing is to get rid of all unsanitary products.''

But if rising water only managed to get close, or only touched your things for a short time, you might be able to save some items.

Some rugs and carpets - nylon, those that weren't submerged or weren't submerged for long - can be saved, he says, but moistened carpet pads should be discarded.

For items you want to save, rent a water extractor or hire a professional cleaning service to remove dirty water, then treat with deodorizer, fungicide and anti-mildew chemicals, available at hardware stores and cleaning services.

Don't be surprised if wooden furniture frames come apart when the components dry. They might need to be reglued and/or rescrewed.

- Mike Pulfer

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Floors and walls: Remove sludge as quickly as possible

For floors and walls, the key is to remove water and sludge as quickly as possible, then disinfect with spray-on deodorizers, fungicides and mildew inhibitors, available at hardware stores and cleaning service companies.

Mickey Moore, technical director of the National Oak Flooring Association, says: ''All woods will succumb to flooding. It just depends on how quickly the problem is addressed and remedies are begun.''

Adds Michael McSwain, vice president of McSwain Hardwood Flooring Co. in Evendale: ''Wood and water just don't mix.'' Narrower boards and sealed, finished floors have the most protection and the best chance of surviving permanent damage from water, but saturated subfloors and insulation can complicate matters by holding moisture for long periods of time.

When the mud is gone, dry out wood floors by turning the furnace fan on (so that it runs constantly), the humidifier off and the thermostat to 76-80 degrees, Mr. Moore suggests.

''From there, it's a waiting game,'' he says. Some floors can take weeks to flatten and stabilize.

An electric blanket on low setting can help dry a wood floor, Mr. McSwain says.

When the floor is dry, inspect it for loose pieces and reattach them with screws and/or nails.

For subsequent hardwood cleaning, use white vinegar and water in a 1:16 ratio.

Wallboard soaked with contaminated water is considered a health hazard and should be discarded. Plaster walls survive floodwater better than wallboard, but it takes a long time to dry. Studs inside the wall will hold bacteria, but they will not come into human contact after they are covered with new drywall or other surfacing materials.

For walls filled with water, drill a hole about 2 inches above the floor, large enough to allow water to drain freely.

Wet fiberglass batts and loose cellulose insulation should be discarded. Styrofoam insulation can be hosed off and reused.

For more help on hardwood, call the Hardwood Manufacturers Association, 1-800-373-9663, or visit its Web site at

- Mike Pulfer

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Appliances: Technician should check them

Refrigerators, washers, dryers, stoves and dishwashers that have been slam-dunked by river water might work fine - or they might be ready for the scrap heap.

The Whirlpool Consumer Assistance Center, Benton Harbor, Mich., and Rick Gochoel, vice president at Wilfert Electric, Norwood, offer these tips:

Whether an appliance can be saved depends on how high the water level, how long it was under water and its age. Have a qualified service technician make the decision.

Do not use a refrigerator that has been submerged in contaminated floodwater. It can no longer safely store food and should be replaced.

Always replace safety controls and gas controls that have been exposed to water.

Don't plug anything in until it's been checked by a certified technician, Mr. Gochoel says.

Before examining any appliance, unplug it and shut off power to the unit at the circuit breaker or fuse box.

Even if a submerged appliance works OK, have it checked by a technician. Corrosion can damage controls, belts and circuit boards, risking electrical shock, gas explosion or fire.

If an appliance can be saved, it should be inspected, cleaned and dried out. Damaged seals, belts, bearings and connections should be replaced. Let it dry at least a week in a well-ventilated area; make sure children can't climb inside. Thoroughly wash the inside with a mild, non-abrasive detergent. Notes Mr. Gochoel: ''It's hard to get rid of that smell, no matter how hard you clean it.''

If the appliance cannot be saved, remove the model and serial number tag; remove or cut the power cord so it can't be reused. Remove lids and doors so children can't become trapped. Check with a waste disposal organization or landfill about disposing of appliances.


Look under ''Appliances-Household'' in the telephone book Yellow Pages.

Whirlpool Consumer Assistance Center, 24-hour hot line and a brochure on water-damaged appliances, 1-800-253-1301.

GE Appliance Repair & Service, 1-800-432-2737.

Sears Appliance Repair, 1-800-473-7247.

- Sue MacDonald

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Audio equipment: Good cleaning might salvage stereos, CDs

For flooded stereos, Lou Hamilton, an electronics salvage expert and owner of Audible Elegance in Montgomery, suggests the following course of action.

First, unplug everything.

While equipment is still wet, haul it outside, remove the casings and spray it with the garden hose. That should remove most of the mud and sludge.

Bathe it in distilled water to remove mineral deposits.

Let it dry. And dry. And dry. Cans of compressed air can speed up the process, or use a hair dryer on the coolest setting.

Once it's completely dry (a process that, depending on humidity, could take weeks) plug it in, turn it on and see if it works. If so, you're OK. If not, you tried.

For other electronic items, Mr. Hamilton says: ''Your VCR is toast; tape deck, CD, CD-Rom - all toast.''

Wooden cabinetry will be warped; switches, volume controls, virtually anything mechanical will probably be useless.

''Your turntable should be all right,'' Mr. Hamilton says. ''But you have to be careful about any grit or silt getting into the tone-arm bearings.''

In other words, if you live on the flood plain, your most important stereo component is a good insurance policy.

As to records, CDs, videos and tapes, it's good and bad news.

River-logged videos and cassettes are junk, the experts say. Grit and silt in the tape mechanisms will render them useless.

Records and CDs can be cleaned. ''Watch the grit,'' warns Mr. Hamilton, who suggests a CD cleaning technique using a ''light, gentle touch, stroking from the center to the edge. No circular motion.''

Record cleaning can start with distilled water and a good record cleaning brush, but to really get the grit and silt out of the grooves, a professional suction cleaning is required.

Paper album covers and CD inserts will be a total loss, but replacement LP sleeves cost no more than $1 each. Plastic CD cases will simply require a good cleaning.

- Larry Nager

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Automobiles: Starting car that's been submerged can cause damage

The most important thing to remember if your car or truck has been partially or completely submerged in floodwaters: Don't crank it.

If water has seeped into the vehicle's engine block, attempting to start the engine may cause more damage, says Gary Irwin of Century Honda in Montgomery.

Water and dirt can not only damage the engine, but the transmission, brakes and electrical system, says George Berry of Jim's Auto Clinic in Monfort Heights.

In addition to the obvious damage done to upholstery and carpeting, flood water is a corrosive and abrasive mixture of water and dirt that forces its way into every seam and crevice of an automobile, says George Giek, director of AAA Automotive Services in Orlando.

Robert Phillips, a State Farm Insurance claims supervisor in Louisville, recommends calling your insurance agent before having the car towed. Some insurance companies may recommend a central towing location, where damage will be assessed.

Comprehensive insurance policies usually cover auto flood damage claims, he says.

According to AAA, before attempting to start a flood-damaged car, a qualified technician should:

Inspect all mechanical components, including the engine, transmission, steering system, axles, brake system and fuel system for water contamination.

Drain flood water from contaminated mechanical systems and flush with clean water or a solvent, as appropriate.

Drain and replace all contaminated fluids, such as oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, power-steering fluid and anti-freeze.

''The car's electrical system also is vulnerable to the damaging effects of flood water and water-sensitive components may need to be replaced,'' Mr. Giek says. ''Engine computers and other electronic devices can sometimes be salvaged, but corrosion and oxidation can occur several weeks after the components are cleaned.''

There are many parts of the car that are difficult to clean and dry because they are virtually inaccessible: door locks, window regulators, wiring harnesses and heating and air conditioning components. These may fail at a later date because of contamination by dirty water.

''Total restoration of a flood-damaged car can be as extensive and expensive as restoring a classic car,'' Mr. Giek says. ''Compare the value of the vehicle to be restored to the cost of restoration before proceeding with flood-related repairs.''

In addition, AAA warns car buyers that flood-damaged vehicles could be in the marketplace for months. Having a vehicle inspected by a qualified technician and checking its title history will help determine whether it sustained flood damage.

A tell-tale sign of flood damage on new and used cars is the presence of dried mud on components under the hood. A damp or musty odor in the trunk or interior is another warning sign. In older cars, new carpet and upholstery may indicate flood damage.

- Chuck Martin and Enquirer news services

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Trash: Call haulers to arrange disposal

Appliance, furniture and flooring experts advise homeowners to discard most items that have suffered prolonged contact with floodwater.

But, what should be done with the refrigerators, carpeting or other large household items too big for normal trash pickup?

Some municipal and county officials are advising residents to call their regular trash hauler.

Some Tristate residential haulers:

BFI, 771-4200.

CSI of Northern Kentucky, 371-1740.

Rumpke, 742-2900.

Cincinnati residents in flooded areas of the city can call the department of public works - 591-6000 - for information regarding the disposal of damaged appliances and other household items.

The department will add staff to field calls as residents begin returning to their homes. They will arrange pickups or advise about temporary drop-off sites, a department spokeswoman said.

- Mark Curnutte

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Personal items: Quick work might save photos, books, artwork

Water damage doesn't have to mean the end of priceless mementos, such as family photos and books.

Depending on how damaged the photo is, it might be possible to get a duplicate negative made from it or have it digitally scanned so a reproduction can be made, says Catherine Halleck, of Restoration Creations in Anderson Township. The cost depends on the type of negative, the amount of restoration required and the size of the photo.

Mold and the sticking together of stacked photos are typical results of water exposure, says Steve Alden, owner of Photo Revival in Kenwood.

To prevent mold and mildew, keep room air circulating with fans. Bring humidity and heat down. When humidity is more than 55 percent and the heat is more than 68 degrees, mold and mildew develop in as little as 24 hours. Turn the heat off if possible. It does not make books dry faster.

For soaked items, rinse off as much mud and debris as possible with clean water, says Stephen Bonadies, chief conservator of the Cincinnati Art Museum.

If books and photos have been completely submerged, place them in a bag and freeze immediately to prevent mold and to keep pages from sticking together, says Scott Gampfer, conservation department supervisor at the Cincinnati Museum Center. The next step is to have the items vacuum freeze dried.

Frozen items can be taken to a company, such as Archival Conservation Center in Finneytown. ''The freeze drying machine removes the ice crystals, but without going through the liquid stage,'' says Arun Khot, president. ''It turns gaseous instead and the book dries to its original shape.'' Cost: $350 per cubic foot of items. For orders more than 10 cubic feet, the price is $100 per cubic foot. Minimum charge: $150.

The American Institute for Conservation has a referral service for people who need to have works of art (prints, photos, paintings, rugs, etc.) conserved. Some tips:

Let photos with slightly damp edges air dry by laying them flat, face up, on something absorbent, such as a towel or paper towel.

Sometimes black and white photos that have dried warped or cockled can be flattened by ironing. Keep a towel between the photo and the iron.

Information: 1-202-452-9545.

- Reon Carter

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Pets: Watertight food containers best for food

Dr. Verne Fairhurst, veterinarian at Montgomery Animal Hospital, listed the following tips for pet care during high-water conditions:

Prevent spoilage of dry dog and cat food by keeping it in water-tight containers.

Keep clean drinking water available. Pets cannot distinguish between contaminated floodwater and clean water.

In flood-damaged areas, keep pets confined on leashes or in carriers to prevent accidents.

Pets experience fear from separation and disruption of routine. Try to calm them.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelity to Animals (SPCA), 3949 Colerain Ave., Northside, will shelter pets for a few days until water recedes, says Harold Dates, general manager.

Information: 541-6100.

- Maxine Berkman

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Computers: Most data can be retrieved

The hardest things to replace after a disaster are personal items. Many of us store some of those items - journals, financial records, even photos - in our home computers. When the PC gets flooded, it can mean real trouble.

But computer salvage expert Lou Hamilton, owner of Audible Elegance in Montgomery, says most of that data is retrievable.

The first step is to flush out your equipment with clean water as soon as possible. ''If you clean it out while it's still wet you have a higher likelihood of getting it working,'' Mr. Hamilton says.

Remove the case from the computer and monitor before gently showering them with a garden hose. Follow that with a distilled-water bath to remove mineral deposits.

''That's going to improve your chances 80 percent,'' he says.

Electronic circuitry boards will probably be all right, says Mr. Hamilton. But anything with moving, mechanical parts, such as floppy disc drives, CD-Rom players and keyboards, are probably unsalvageable.

Hard-disc drives, where most personal data is stored, usually are salvageable, at least to a degree. There are even some businesses that retrieve data from ''crashed'' hard drives. But Mr. Hamilton suggests shopping for the best price before deciding on any repair service.

There are no local data-recovery companies. Drive Savers Data Recovery is based in Northern California: 1-800-440-1904; Internet address -

Should you decide to junk your hard drive, Mr. Hamilton and his staff suggest taking a hammer to it first. On the computers he deals with, ''60-70 percent of the time I will find information on (the hard drives), extremely personal information: income tax, business information.''

Should you decide your system can't be saved, you may be able to sell undamaged parts, such as plastic casings. One of the best places to sell those parts, Mr. Hamilton says, is the Internet. But there's a catch: Before you can do business there, you'll need a new computer to go online.

- Larry Nager

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Getting help: Numbers and addresses

Repairing Your Flooded Home, a 56-page booklet published by the Federal Emergency Mangement Agency and the American Red Cross, includes information on drying out a home, restoring utilities, cleaning up and rebuilding. It's free and can be picked up at the Cincinnati Area Chapter's office, 720 Sycamore St., downtown. Copies will be distributed to Red Cross service centers as they are set up in affected areas. The information is also online at

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) hot line (for federal assistance): 1-800-462-9029. The FEMA Web site at has a section on ''Help After a Disaster'' and a ''Response and Recovery'' section with tips on returning home after a flood.

If floodwaters have receded and there is no obvious activity in the area to restore gas and electric service, Cinergy customers should call the company: 421-9500 or 1-800-262-3000.

Cinergy customers can report a gas leak or electrical problem at these numbers. Gas: 651-4466. Electric: 651-4182. Toll-free: 1-800-262-3000.

Cincinnati Water Works: 591-7700.

Northern Kentucky Water Service District: 291-5666.

Boone County Water District: 586-6155.

Cincinnati Bell: residential repair, 611; business repair, 566-1611; 24-hour help, 565-6090.

Cincinnati's Public Works Customer Service Center hot line (non-emergency questions): 591-6000.

Whirlpool Consumer Assistance Center, 24-hour hot line and a brochure on water-damaged appliances, 1-800-253-1301.

GE Appliance Repair & Service, 1-800-432-2737.

Sears Appliance Repair, 1-800-473-7247.

Furniture, carpeting
Do-It-Yourself.Com, cleaning home furnishings -

The Home Maintenance and Repair Page, cleaning flood-soaked carpets -

Hardwood information: Hardwood Manufacturers Association, 1-800-373-9663 or web site at

Artwork, photos, books, etc.
The American Institute for Conservation Referral Service: 1-202-452-9545.

Consumer information
Better Business Bureau: 421-3015.

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