HANCOCK COUNTY — Weeks after Hurricane Isaac caused widespread flooding and power outages in South Mississippi, people are still tearing out drywall and throwing away furniture covered in mold.
Mold spores are a familiar foe for those who live in the low-lying areas of Hancock County. They fought them after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, then Gustav in 2008 and now Isaac. All three caused heavy flooding in Pearlington and elsewhere. Isaac pushed 16 inches of water into Racquel Barnhart’s home in the Oak Harbor area, where it stayed for several hours.
“This entire neighborhood was flooded,” she said. “We all had mold. When we pulled out the (drywall), there was mold, mold on wood, mold on the furniture, mold on the cabinets. If you didn’t have mold, I don’t know how that was possible.”
Barnhart said she scrubbed the home down with bleach and other cleaning products and rinsed it with water, among other tactics. Her husband also tore out drywall in patches that were 4 feet high, and removed cabinets and got rid of furniture. She’s unsure how much the mold issues will end up costing the family. Barnhart said it’s better to be safe than sorry, though.
“It’s a serious issue and I would suggest to anyone to get rid of it ASAP,” she said. “I’m very afraid of the mold and my husband is very afraid of the mold. That’s why we threw everything out.”
The Mississippi Department of Health says molds are simple microscopic organisms, found “virtually everywhere” both indoors and outdoors on plants, foods, leaves and other materials. The mold is beneficial for breaking down dead matter, working sort of like nature’s recycler. It’s also lightweight and easily becomes airborne. It comes in many hues, ranging from white to orange and from green to black or brown.
When found in large clusters, mold cause allergy problems and other health issues. Exposure can also cause a wide range of symptoms, including wheezing, difficulty breathing, nasal and sinus congestion, or burning, watery, red eyes, blurry vision and sensitivity to light. It can cause throat soreness, shortness of breath and some central nervous system issues including constant headaches, memory problems and mood changes. Aches and pains are sometimes reported.
Isaac left about 18 inches of water in Stephen Gibson’s home not far from Barnhart’s place. Once his electricity came back on, his air conditioner unit died, leaving the hot and damp house in the perfect state for mold development.
Gibson has ripping out about 70 sheets of drywall. He said after the work was done he hasn’t noticed any health problems that he can directly connect to the mold.
“My breathing isn’t the best in the world, but I don’t know if it is old age or what,” he said.
Claudette Reichel, a Louisiana State University professor and extension housing specialist with the LSU AgCenter, said the best advice for those who had extensive flooding is to hire a professional with the equipment needed to properly kill the mold.
But many don’t have that option.
“The reality is there are not enough (contractors) to go around after a major flooding event and not everyone can afford them,” she said.
Reichel developed guidelines for people to take on mold removal themselves. It’s important to get to the mold quickly, she said.
“Mold colonies get rolling in about two days,” she said. “If you can’t get in and get everything dry within maybe two or three days, it’s likely there will be mold to deal with. Once it gets rolling, the longer it’s there, it grows in exponentially.”
Reichel said any porous material — carpet, upholstered furniture, books, mattresses and other materials should be thrown out. Some hard materials such as tile and solid wood can be cleaned.
Floodwaters often contain sewage and other contaminants, which can be battled with disinfectants. Bleach isn’t always the best solution for flooding, she said, as it can kill mold if left on it long enough, but the bleach often quickly dissipates, sometimes before the mold is dead. And even the dead stuff can be harmful.
“What we recommend is clean it away first, because you have to remove it, not just kill it, because dead mold spores have the same health effects as live ones — they just won’t reproduce,” Reichel said. “. Even if it’s dead, it’s still allergenic and if it’s the type that produces toxins, those toxins are still there.”
In a separate flood-related item in the county, the city of Waveland will launch a limited “buyout” program to help some flood-prone residents.
The Sea Coast Echo reports the city has accepted a $933,911 grant from FEMA to buy about eight properties eligible for the acquisition program.
Mayor David Garcia says the affected homeowners have been notified.
Garcia says it takes about 30 days from the time a homeowner agrees to the buyout and the city can move to demolish the houses. The house will be replaced with grass and other vegetation.
Garcia says the program is voluntary.
Garcia says the program has to be completed by March or the city loses the FEMA funds.