Laurie May and Kevin May of Arlington clear out damaged items from their rental home while dealing with the aftermath of major flooding that occurred days earlier in North Bend, Nebraska.

As floodwaters recede, people are returning to their homes to assess the damage.

Although water is going down in most places, that doesn’t mean homes that have been flooded are safe. Floods can cause a multitude of problems, and the visible damage is only the tip of the iceberg.

“Stay out of the water,” warned Phil Rooney, a spokesman for the Douglas County Health Department. “Moving water is obviously dangerous, but standing water can be the source for many diseases. When in doubt about what you are doing, please call a certified professional.”

The list below is meant to help people stay safe as they return to their homes to clean up from the flood.

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Safety at home:

» If you have any concerns about your safety, don’t enter the building. Ask for help first.

» Make sure you are current on your tetanus vaccination before doing cleanup.

» Once inside your house, look for cracks, buckled walls, loose material or shifting of the foundation.

» Call an electrician to turn off your electricity before entering any standing water if you can’t access the main power switch.

» Air out your house for at least 30 minutes.

» If your home was flooded, assume that it has mold and take all possible steps to treat that mold until proven otherwise.

» Check with your utility company regarding how to safely turn gas or electricity back on.

» Ensure that all electrical appliances are completely dry before using.

» Dispose of any medicines exposed to floodwaters.

» Beware of dangers hidden beneath standing water, such as broken glass, splintered wood, nails, sources of electricity, chemicals and animals.

» Give your lawn and shrubs time to recover from the flood.

» Monitor trees for signs of movement and immediately contact an arborist if you notice any change in large trees that could mean they’re damaged.

Water management:

» Avoid stagnant water and remove it as soon as possible.

» If you use well water, use bottled water until the well can be tested by a professional.

» Boil all water used for cooking or brushing teeth until it has been determined safe to drink.


» Brush off all dirt and debris from fabrics, soak with disinfectant, then wash as normal in a washing machine.

» Furniture soaked with floodwater, like mattresses, may be too costly or difficult to repair and should be discarded.

» Thoroughly disinfect any children’s toys or items babies or toddlers may put in their mouths and discard any waterlogged toys.

» Dispose of any soiled wall coverings, sheet rock, rugs or other absorbent materials that can’t be cleaned.


» Sanitize anything you can, especially pots, pans, dishes, utensils and personal hygiene items.

» Thoroughly clean undamaged metal cans (after removing labels).

» Flooded indoor areas, particularly food-contact surfaces such as counters or pantry shelves, require thorough sanitizing.

Avoid eating these:

» Food touched by floodwaters, including crops in a garden.

» Foods needing refrigeration if the refrigerator has been out for more than four hours.

 » Food that wasn’t in a waterproof container (screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops and crimped tops are not considered waterproof).

» Cardboard-contained juices, milks or baby formula.

» Food in damaged cans.

» Meat, poultry or seafood.

» Milk, cream, yogurt, soft or shredded cheeses, opened baby formula and other dairy.

» Eggs, dough, cooked pasta and cooked or cut produce.

Salvageable food:

» Food that is still at 40 degrees or below (check the temperature of your refrigerator).

» Frozen food that still has ice crystals and hasn’t been thawed for more than four hours.

» Hard cheeses, grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

» Butter or margarine.

» Unopened fruit juices or canned fruits.

» Peanut butter, jelly, most non-dairy-based condiments, vinegar-based dressings and sauces, bread, fruit pies, fresh mushrooms, fresh herbs, uncut raw vegetables and fruit.


» Boil all water to be used for cooking vigorously for one minute.

» Disinfect all cookware before use.

» Opt for canned, packaged, dried or dehydrated ingredients.

Helpful resources:

» Nebraska Emergency Management Agency flood hotline, 402-817-1551.

» For information on debris cleanup, call the Crisis Cleanup Hotline, 402-556-2476.

» Farmers with lost livestock or machinery should contact the Farm Service Agency office. Local contacts can be found at fsa.usda.gov/state-offices/Nebraska/index

» Donations are being collected through Nebraska 211. In Nebraska, simply dial 211, or call 866-813-1731 if out of state.

» Para instrucciones en español, visite extension.sdstate.edu/inundaciones-sugerencias-utiles

» Various tips and resources from Nebraska Extension are available at flood.unl.edu

» Safety information from the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency is available at nema.nebraska.gov

» A free webinar on safe cleanup on farms and ranches will run from noon to 1:15 p.m. Thursday and be available online afterward. To register, visit bit.ly/2Fd0MV7, or to view the completed webinar later, visit unmc.edu/publichealth/cscash

» To start a FEMA National Flood Insurance Program claim, visit bit.ly/2Y1L3Rc

Sources: Douglas County Health Department, University of Nebraska Extension, Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Illinois Department of Health