Flood aftermath: Emergency officials answer your questions about cleanup

As water levels continue to recede, questions linger about flood recovery and how to clean up.

Officials respond to residents' questions pertaining to this year's flood cleanup

CBC New Brunswick hosted a special show dedicated to New Brunswickers dealing with the aftermath of this year's flood and answered questions about the clean-up process. (Julia Wright / CBC)

As water levels continue to recede this week, questions about flood recovery and cleanup abound.

A special program hosted by CBC New Brunswick on Monday was devoted to the concerns and questions of residents from areas ravaged by the worst New Brunswick flooding in memory.

The water itself is still contaminated with bacteria and possibly chemical contaminants, said Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, who fielded a lot of questions about water quality during the show.

"We want people to be aware that if they can avoid working in the water, great," she said. "But if you can't, make sure you wear protective equipment and after that, you're washing and disinfecting that equipment."

The province doesn't typically test the St. John River and hasn't discussed any future testing, since it's a flowing body of water that will eventually clear itself of any debris or contamination. 

She couldn't say how long that will take.

Testing water

Water levels still remain high in McMinniman Court in Fredericton. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

The cleanup is going to take several weeks, so it's still hard to predict when water can be used for recreational use.  

People who've been cleaning up should disinfect their hands before eating and disinfect or discard anything that's been contaminated by the water.

Residents should wait 10 days after water levels recede before doing any regular outdoor activities such as mowing the lawn or having their children play in areas that were flooded.

With respect to gardens and crops, she said, contaminants will be cleared out in 30 to 90 days. If residents are planning to eat raw food, they should wait longer than 30 days.

Boiling water

"That allows time for sun and rain to clear the ground of some of the contaminants," she said. 

If water has come into contact with a resident's well and they're not sure whether it's contaminated, the water should also be tested 10 days after it recedes, Russell said.

In the meantime, water should be boiled for a full minute before use.

Logs covered by contaminated water and used to burn inside wood stove should also be discarded.

At its peak, water levels in the Grand Lake area reached 6.84 metres — 1.8 metres above flood stage. (Submitted)

Wood stored inside a basement that's been flooded should also be removed as it can develop mould, especially this time of year. 

People who want to burn logs outside should wait until they're completely dry. 

Test kits will be provided by the Department of Environment and Local Government at Service New Brunswick on May 17. Water will be tested by RPC - Science and Engineering, and residents will not immediately receive water-testing results.

A panel of experts answer flood recovery and clean-up questions. 49:29

Once materials have been soaked under water for an extended period of time, Russell said, it's important to dry them out for 24 to 48 hours to prevent mould. Any soft materials that can't be dried out should be discarded.

Mould can trigger allergies and cause watery eyes, runny nose and breathing problems. People with underlying respiratory illnesses could feel an exacerbation of their symptoms because of mould and should avoid cleanup if they can.

Cleaning inside

When cleaning indoors, Russell recommended opening windows in the house and getting the air moving, and using masks and other protective equipment.

If septic systems are flooded, Russell said, there could be debris around it when water recedes that can block the pump. She recommended a professional to clear out the blockage.

"There's some very dangerous fumes that can occur during this type of thing," she said.

"We're also concerned about compaction of soil on top of the septic system that would decrease the effectiveness of it. During the time of the flood the system can also be overwhelmed."   

Assessing the damage

Charlie Dyer, the owner of Case's Renovations and Paul Davis Restoration and a member of the Fredericton Homebuilders Association, said residents with flooded properties need to stand back and identify hazards at their home first.

"The most important thing is safety for yourself," he said. "There's lots of dangers from a health standpoint, from standing water, possible mould … electrical, that's huge." 

If the power is still on inside a person's home, Dyer said, residents should call an electrician, followed by an insurance adjuster. He said it's important to let an adjuster know the particular issues surrounding the home.

"We make sure to get someone out there as soon as we can," said Greg Potten, a senior loss adjuster with AMG claims.

"The emergency work is the most important part because if it's not done properly, you're going to have problems down the road."  

Getting power again

Meanwhile, some people who had to disconnect their power are wondering if they need to hire an electrician to get hooked back up again.  

Typically, NB Power will look after anything outside the house from the meter in, Dyer said. 

A panel of experts answer flood recovery and clean-up questions. 49:30

And an electrician can deal with the situation inside if water has been over a breaker panel.

NB Power disconnected some whole areas as the water rose and told those property owners it wouldn't be restored until after a safety inspection. At a minimum, flooded owners were told they needed new hot water heaters as well. 

Help for cottagers

Calls were also interested in whether the province will help cover damage to cottages.

Right now, the disaster financial assistance program of the federal government only covers primary residences. Cottage owners needing help with cleanup can hire people at minimum wage for the removal of debris.

Debris from destroyed or heavily damaged cottages was thrown ashore by waves at the longtime summer community at Robertson's Point, near Jemseg.

People who need federal help can find an application on the Department of Justice and Public Safety website, said Lisa Munn, manager of recovery services with the Department of Justice and Public Safety.

"They can go on, pick up the application package and it has all the information they need to apply."

Meanwhile, solid waste commissions in Fredericton, Crane Mountain in Saint John, Grand Bay-Westfield and Sussex will accept flood debris at no cost.

Special collections offlood debris will be done in local service districts in the Fredericton area starting May 21. Plans for special collections in unincorporated areas farther downriver will be announced later this week.

A panel of experts answer flood recovery and clean-up questions. 26:57

With files from Information Morning Fredericton