Makayla Carter stands in the muddy ruins of her family’s home.
The stench from the piles of rubbish and broken things is overwhelming in the streets of Innisfail.
Neighbors went door to door, calling to help those cleaning their homes.
As the flood continued and widespread flooding began, a massive clean-up operation began.
Despite the destruction around her, Ms Carter kept her spirits up.
“We’re lucky we didn’t lose, so we’re happy about that,” he said.
“Before the storm, we did a big cleanup, so all the important stuff was already upstairs.”
Further north of Cairns, the Mud Army is on the move.
From Thursday, the volunteer Cairns Clean Up Crew will help residents move rubbish and clean their properties, while State Emergency Service (SES) and Rural Fire Service (RFS) crews are carrying out “washes”. out” of the property.
Mold removal expert Gerard Murtagh said despite the discomfort and heat, anyone in the flood should wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and document the cleanup.
“Invest in gumboots or waders gloves, masks or respirators,” he says.
“Tell your insurance company, take as many photos as you can of every item that was affected.
“Anything that is touched by the water from outside, then you have to take it, it cannot be saved.”
He said PPE is also important to protect against exposure to asbestos, a hazardous building material found in the floors, walls, and roofs of homes built before 1990, and often used by coastal region for the iconic beach shack.
It is most dangerous when the small fibers exposed to the material damage can become airborne and inhaled, damaging the lungs, and must be disposed of in special waste facilities.
After the flood, WorkSafe Queensland recommends avoiding handling asbestos unless absolutely necessary, wearing PPE, staying wet, and not using high pressure hoses to clean it up.
Mold grows quickly
Mr Murtagh said mold could grow in 48 hours, even in homes that were not flooded, and encouraged quick action.
“If you have the skills to be able to remove damaged materials, such as carpet or plasterboard, then we recommend that you try it yourself,” he said.
“You better try to get that out of your house right away.”
Plasterboard in flooded houses must be cut about 50 centimeters above the water line and removed, and wall insulation that can harbor pathogens and moisture must also be removed.
Wood or metal studs can be pressure washed, sprayed with an antimicrobial disinfectant, and allowed to dry completely.
Ventilation and use of dry air-conditioning cycles also help, he said.
Mr Murtagh said people underestimated the “extremely dangerous” risks of mold during the 2011 Brisbane floods.
“Water is carried across the land, which means it picks up pathogens and other microorganisms, feces, dead animals and all the other nasty stuff inside our homes,” he said.
“Plaster, carpet, furniture items a lot of water that passes through the house is absorbed by these materials.
“If it’s not dried or disposed of quickly, it will become moldy.”
Exposure to mold can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and skin, causing asthma flare-ups, hay fever symptoms, and infections, according to WorkSafe Queensland.
It is also linked to bacterial infections, chronic disease and a weakened immune system.
Call the professionals
Mycologist Hieke Neumeister-Kemp urged residents not to underestimate the threat mold poses during the cleanup, or in the coming weeks.
“It’s not something to be taken lightly,” he said.
“They think, ‘If I open the windows and let it dry, it won’t be moldy,’ and after three weeks they’re really sick because they can’t get the mold out of the holes.
He said that molds larger than a hand require professional treatment.
“First, you vacuum the loose spores off the surface, then you need a microfibre cloth, then you have an 80/20 solution of vinegar, or a 30/70 solution of methylated spirits, which you spray and rub,” he said.
“But then you have to wash the cloth or get a new cloth because otherwise, you’ll get it dirty.”
Once stripped, structurally dried and cleaned, he said homes should be tested through a Post-Remediation Verification (PRV) inspection before construction.
“If houses are not treated well, [the residents] there’s constant exposure,” he said.
What about books, documents and photos?
While residents like Makayla Carter try to save what they can, paintings conservator at the University of Melbourne, Vanessa Kowalski says delicate management is critical.
“Before moving something like a document or a book, we recommend putting it on something hard, like a cutting board or a covered plastic container,” he said.
“With things like photographs, you have to be careful not to touch the top of the picture because that will ruin the image.”
Getting rid of frames and albums also helps, and if finding space or time to dry things is an issue, the freezer helps.
“Not all things can be frozen, but things like documents, albums, photos, books, textiles, can be,” he said.
“That buys you more time.”
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