Deluge dilemma: Residents deal with remaining floodwater

LAWRENCEVILLE - As pesky rain pelted Dan Welgoss' forested Lawrenceville property last week, he quipped that it'd take Noah's Ark Part Two to affect his house.

By Tuesday, Welgoss was eating his words.

His big backyard that ends at the Yellow River's banks had morphed to a teeming, moody pool of orange water that licked at his deck, which normally stands 12 feet off the ground.

The byproduct of nearly 7 inches of rain in one day swelled doorknob-high in Welgoss' living room, wiping out pricey furniture like a $5,000 mahogany buffet too heavy to take upstairs.

"This is beyond comprehension," said Welgoss, an account executive for Aaron's Office Furniture. "This isn't the river rose - this is a catastrophe."

Like many on his street, Welgoss has flood insurance, costing most residents about $375 per year. He spent much of Tuesday rifling through debris accumulated in his garage, placing call after call to his insurance provider and waiting for an overwhelmed adjuster to drop by, he said.

On every level, the big, dirty job was just getting started.

By day's end, Gwinnett Emergency Management Agency officials had completed about 25 percent of a preliminary assessment of damage to flooded areas. The tally includes 71 homes and four businesses with some degree of damage, said Fire Department spokesman Capt. Thomas Rutledge.

Local officials plan to send a completed list of addresses and damages to the state-level emergency managers, and on to FEMA if need be, Rutledge said.

Officials urge property owners whose homes are flooded to keep out until the water recedes. If returning is necessary, Rutledge said residents should ensure utilities aren't active in wet areas and that structural engineers are enlisted to check the home's bones.

"There is no mandatory evacuation, so people are within their rights to return home," he said. "We just ask people to exercise extreme caution."

Nick Baldi heeded that wisdom when the finished basement of his 1980s contemporary home filled with eight feet of water Monday night. In his underwear, the retired corrections officer lugged as much furniture and electronics out as possible, until the water reached his circuit breaker, he said.

"I didn't want to get fried," Baldi said. "I had to go."

The residual effects of the flooding are plaguing homeowners and drivers alike.

Around noon on Cruse Road, a Gwinnett DOT crew installed permanent, reflective barriers near James Road - the crew's third installation of the morning - where waters had cut a wide swath. Other barriers thwart traffic on Five Forks Trickum, Harmony Grove and Brownlee roads. "It's a mess," one worker chimed.

Where the flooding is an impediment to drivers, it's opened business opportunities for others.

Ram Partners LLC, operators of five apartment communities in Gwinnett, is offering flood victims a special relocation program that includes immediate move-in, no security deposit and no rent until October. Contact the company at 770-446-3700 for more information.

"We're waving everything for them because of the flood," said spokeswoman Gabriela Arquette. "They're not going to have to pay anything."

A manager at Lowe's Home Improvement in Norcross said water-moving contraptions like Shop-Vacs were selling quickly Tuesday and that more had been ordered.

Despite the chaos and scattered emergency resources, officials said the deluge had hardly opened the floodgates to criminals.

Police haven't logged a single report of crime related to flooding, be it theft or otherwise, said Gwinnett police spokesman Officer Brian Kelly.

But the flooding wasn't a total bummer.

Brookwood High School senior Daniel Elia gathered three buddies who, unencumbered by a day at school, christened themselves "urban flood chasers" and paddled kayaks around waterlogged subdivisions. All three vowed to help needy residents if they found them.

"We just didn't want to waste our school day off," Elia said.

Click here to view flood water level

SideBar: Tips for cleaning up

The Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification, an international nonprofit organization, released the following tips to property owners for proper and safe clean-up for water damage.

The tips can help reduce property damage and limit health risks, as flood water can be contaminated.

· Use caution when entering buildings. Make sure electrical power is off and the structure is sound before entering and inspecting a flooded building. Small animals or reptiles may also seek shelter inside a structure, so be cautious when repositioning contents or removing materials.

· Protect yourself. Wear an organic vapor respirator, available from paint or building supply stores, along with rubber gloves, eye protection and protective clothing. Ventilate affected areas by opening windows, and eventually, by placing a fan in a window. Work toward the fan as you clean to minimize cross contamination.

· Know what items to throw away. Porous items that absorb contaminated flood water shouldn't be restored. Drywall, carpet and pad, mattresses, pillows, box springs, and particle board normally should be discarded if wet.

· Wet clothing and many household fabrics may be salvageable. Machine washing, including at least a 10-minute soak in detergent and hot water, should remove most contamination and stains.

· Open pockets of saturation by removing base molding and portions of damaged walls and wet insulation. Locate the water line and measure 15 to 20 inches above it. Everything below that should be removed and discarded.

· Flooring, such as hardwood, laminate or sheet vinyl, should be removed to expose pockets of saturation underneath for cleaning, sanitizing and drying.

· Clean aggressively. Wall cavities and exposed durable materials (studs, joists) should be cleaned by pressure washing with detergent solutions. After thoroughly cleaning and flushing salvageable materials, apply a disinfectant solution liberally. A water restoration professional may be needed to perform this service safely and effectively.

· Prevent mold growth. Although it takes a few days to appear, mold thrives in a moist environment with organic material (e.g., paper or particle board), and temperatures between 68 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep air moving and maintain moderate temperatures as possible.

· Dry out before you rebuild. To prevent dry rot and on-going structural damage, don't reconstruct or cover wood materials until its moisture content falls below 16 percent. Moisture meters are available online, but it may be best to hire a water restoration professional to confirm proper drying before reconstruction.

· Consider hiring a professional. A professional water damage restoration company has trained technicians, specialized cleaners and antimicrobial agents, and extraction, drying, dehumidifying and moisture measuring equipment. Call the IICRC toll-free hotline at (800) 835-4624, or go to www.CertifiedCleaners.org for a list of certified water restorers in your area.

· Beware of scam artists targeting storm victims. The IICRC requires certified firms to have proper licensing and liability insurance, to adhere to a code of ethics and to employ trained technicians. When approached by any company for water restoration services, ask to see the technician's official IICRC wallet card that confirms training and certification. You may also call the IICRC hotline to confirm the certification of a company that has contacted you.