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Alberta flooding: Health precautions to take when returning home

TORONTO – The cleanup begins for some 65,000 Calgarians who were told they’re allowed to return home to assess the damage from flooding that left much of Alberta drenched in dirty water and a mess of debris.

While other communities are still bracing for more flooding – in Medicine Hat, another 10,000 people were evacuated Sunday night – some Albertans are just beginning to pick up the pieces.

But health officials are warning that homeowners, businesses and social care facilities need to follow safety precautions to stay healthy and avoid contamination.

“Flood waters can carry disease bacteria from raw sewage, which can lead to serious health problems if surfaces and furniture [are] not thoroughly cleaned and sterilized, and food disposed of,” Alberta Health Services said in a statement.

Read more: Cleanup begins: 65,000 Calgarians going back home

With the torrential downpours and flooding came germs, exposed food and contaminated water.

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Global News rounds up tips from Alberta Health Services, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization to help Albertans navigate what to keep, what to clean and what to throw out to stay healthy.

For clean water

As early as last Thursday, boil water advisories were in place for some parts of Alberta.

Right now, there is no boil water advisory for Calgary, but residents affected by this policy need to bring their water to a rapid, rolling boil for at least one minute prior to using it for drinking, making infant formula or juice, cooking, brushing teeth or washing raw food and making ice.

If the water is cloudy, strain it using a coffee filter.

Read more about disinfecting water supply after flooding here.

To help decide what food to keep, and what to throw away

Any food and packaging material that has been submerged in the flood waters or affected by moisture needs to be thrown out unless it was sealed and undamaged.

Refrigerated or frozen foods that have thawed or spent an unknown amount of time in refrigerators need to be thrown out, too, AHS says.

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Read more: Alberta River Basin Advisories

Any products with screw-caps, snap-lids, crimped-caps such as soda pop bottles, twist-caps, flip-tops, or snap-opens need to be thrown out if they were submerged in flood waters.

Food packed in plastic, paper, cardboard or cloth that has been water damaged also needs to be tossed as a safety precaution.

Some items that were in all-metal cans and haven’t been damaged can be salvaged, though. Officials are advising residents to thoroughly wash the cans, disinfect them with sanitizing solution, and re-label them to include expiration dates.

Eating or drinking anything contaminated by flood water could lead to illnesses, the CDC warns.

Residents need to take up frequent hand-washing, especially washing up before meals.

The U.S. health agency advises those who have injuries to keep the wounds away from the flood waters to avoid infection.

Read more from the CDC’s Flood Waters and Outbreaks guide here. The WHO also offers this fact sheet on flooding and communicable diseases.

To clean floors, walls, ceiling and furniture

Mould contamination is on of the biggest concerns for homeowners. Walls, piping, ceiling and ventilation systems need to be cleaned, disinfected and repaired.

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Any absorbent materials – carpet and drywall, for example – need to be removed.

Read more: Efforts to restore everyday life for Calgarians continue online

Plush furniture, magazines and books, beds and fluffy bedding could take days to dry, even in ideal settings, AHS says.

It suggests focusing on valuable possessions.

“Immediately discard inexpensive possessions that have been soaked. Don’t waste time on them when there are so many other important things to do,” it says.

“Use your energy to save antique or solid wood furniture instead.”

Don’t bother saving mattresses and box springs. They need to go because they’re too difficult to clean, disinfect and dry before mould problems set in.

Homeowners need to turn the power off in their homes to check on light fixtures and sockets to make sure water or dirt hasn’t seeped in. The same goes for appliances – the connections in wiring could be wet and soggy, which could be hazardous.

Read through the AHS’ guide to reopening after a flood here.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

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