LUMBERTON — After growing up in Lumberton’s Mayfair neighborhood and moving to Wilmington, Jamin Kozak knew she wanted to live close to home.
About a year and a half ago, she and her husband, Bill, made that dream a reality, purchasing and renovating the house next door to her father’s on Westminster Road.
They’ve spent the past two days gutting that house after Hurricane Matthew forced 8 inches of floodwater into the one-story home.
“We had to get everything out of the house,” she said on her back porch Wednesday afternoon. “We thought we could save stuff that didn’t actually touch the water — like clothes hanging in the closet — but with all the moisture in the air, everything is soaking wet.”
Jamin, who has a 3-year-old son, wasn’t taking any chances with the post-storm cleanup. A wooden play house had to go, along with cabinets and doors.
“Anything that’s porous such as drywall, couches, towels — once they’ve been wet they can become moldy. Even though they are maybe treasured belongings people need to discard them because they may have mold problems,” says Dr. Julie Casani, director of Public Health Preparedness for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
The risk for mold is of particular concern in Robeson County, where an estimated 7,057 structures were damaged by floodwater. Standing water sat in many of these structures for days as their occupants sought refuge with friends and family, in hotels outside of Robeson County and in county emergency shelters.
If your house has been flooded and closed for several days, the Centers for Disease Control recommends going in briefly to turn on fans and open windows and doors and airing the home out for at least 30 minutes before spending time in it. It’s best to wear boots, gloves and a face mask while dealing with mold. Hard surfaces should be disinfected with diluted bleach, Casani says, and any medication or food that comes in contact with floodwater — even canned goods — should be thrown out.
Casani cautioned residents to be careful while they clean up. Wet items can be heavy and debris can conceal broken objects. When placing discarded items on the street for collection, she says to make sure they won’t collect water that could become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Contamination from floodwater is also a concern as people start to return to their homes.
‘The floodwaters become sort of a big mixing bowl of household chemicals, if people have septic tanks, general mud and dirt,” she said. “… It’s not likely that there is a terrible risk from this contamination other than the overall dirtiness of it and that you don’t want to ingest it or get it into an open wound.”
To this end, she added that people should keep a close eye on children during cleanup efforts.
The recovery process seems to be a step ahead in Mayfair, one of the harder hit neighborhoods in Lumberton. By Tuesday, residents had piled up insulation, furniture and other ruined items along their curbs. The bright, colorful vans of professional cleaning services and trucks bearing the names of volunteer organizations lined the streets.
Many people in the neighborhood, including Kozak, had to leave by boat Oct. 11 as floodwater continued to rise long after Matthew’s rain had stopped. Kozak said her neighborhood was still navigable the Saturday of the hurricane, but by the next day the water was in the house. The family packed up and sought refuge on the second floor of her father’s house next door before evacuating and heading to Raleigh.
Wanting to keep an eye on things, Bill remained, guarding the neighborhood from looters. He and his friends, who would post up at the subdivision’s entrances at night, earned the moniker “the Mayfair Militia.”
The family boated back to their house Tuesday to survey the damage and get to work.
“There’s times we just sat down and said what are we going to do,” Kozak said.
On Wednesday, about 11 volunteers with the North Carolina Baptist Men’s Disaster Relief program were lending a hand — their first Hurricane Matthew job. The volunteers were from Pine Grove Baptist Church and Second Baptist Church, both in Richmond County. The program has set up shop at Hyde Park Baptist Church at 301 N. Roberts Ave. in Lumberton.
Neighbors have also banded together in the wake of the storm, Kozak said.
“I’ve met neighbors I didn’t even know were here,” she said. “It was long days for a while, but as devastating as it was, it made us a tighter-community.”
Casani noted that emotional health after a disaster is important along with physical help. Now is the time to lean on friends, family and neighbors.
“Especially in North Carolina, our neighbors are tremendous resources and coming together, helping each other is really the North Carolina way. This isn’t the time to be proud, it’s time to seek those resources. You’ll pay it back,” she said. “… People want to recover, they want to get back to where they were but it’s difficult looking at your personal belongings, looking at what you associate as your family home like this. It’s upsetting to everyone and it’s normal to have grief reactions.”
For more tips on re-entering and cleaning your home after a flood, visit cdc.gov/disasters/floods. North Carolinians can dial 2-1-1 to be connected to storm-related resources. A disaster distress helpline at the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration can be reached by calling 1-800-985-5990 and or texting “TalkWithUs” to 66746.
Sarah Willets can be reached on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.