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Efforts turn to cleanup and recovery after Alberta flood waters recede

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As flood waters recede, the Calgary Stampede could offer a much-needed return to normalcy for traumatized flood …

With flood waters receding in many parts of Alberta, and evacuation orders being lifted, residents returning to homes that have been inundated by water for two days or more are unfortunately in for a long recovery process — not just for their homes and possessions, but also their mental and physical health as well.

The biggest effect on everything in the flood zone is, of course, the water itself.

According to the City of Calgary, and Alberta Health Services, anyone returning to their home first needs to first check if there is still flooding inside, and if the water on any floor is still above the height of electrical outlets, they need to stay out, even if the power is currently off. If it's safe to go back in, the next concern is that the water, having flowed through the area for two days (or more in some cases), will have seeped and soaked into every surface it touched — floors, walls, cabinets, furniture — and it's not enough to just set up fans to dry things out.

[ Related: Flooding crests in Medicine Hat, areas downstream prep for the worst ]

For any home that has had any height of water inside, that water will have seeped and soaked into every surface it touched. Walls below the 'water line' will need to be broken out so that soaked drywall and wet insulation can be thrown out, and wet wall supports can be exposed so they can be properly cleaned and dried. All surfaces — walls, ceilings, everything — above the water line need to be cleaned thoroughly as well. Carpets and rugs will need to be removed (and probably thrown in the trash), and possibly even vinyl, linoleum and tile flooring, as they'll trap moisture against the floorboards and cause even more damage. Any electrical appliances (including furnaces and water heaters) will probably need to be inspected before they're safe to use again.

All food — except maybe canned food — needs to be thrown out, and even then, any cans saved should be closely inspected before they're kept; any that are dinged or damaged, or that are 'bulging' need to be thrown out too, and those that pass will need to be washed thoroughly. Clothes, bedding, furniture, and even books, papers and magazines that were in contact or near the water may need to be thrown out as well.

The cautions and extra work for all this is because the water definitely isn't the only problem that needs to be worried about.

One big direct concern is anything that was in the water as it was flowing past or getting trapped in the home. Dirt, germs, sewage, different chemicals, fuel and oil from submerged cars; any one of these can contaminate a home enough that it will need a major cleaning before its safe to live in again, but unfortunately its more likely that a brew of several of these together was inside the home, making it all the more important that the cleaning is done right (and preferably by a professional), so that everyone living there is sure of their safety.

Added to that problem are the effects afterwards. Mould is probably the biggest concern with wet floors, saturated walls and insulation, and soaked furniture and other belongings, even if the water was clean. Mould loves heat and humidity, and it's quite possible that it has already started spreading through any flooded house, even in such a short time. This is why the cleaning is so important, and why everything that was soaked needs to be removed from the house. Getting everything clean and dry as quickly as possible will prevent mould from getting out of hand.

Any type of mould can cause people problems, as their spores can set off allergic reactions or cause issues with anyone who has asthma or other breathing problems, but some, like Stachybotrys — also called black mould — can be deadly if someone breathes the spores in long enough.

There's one other major concern for the victims of the flood, and that's their mental health.

Even after everything else is taken care of... the house is clean, repaired and mould-free... possessions have been salvaged or replaced... family is back in the home and life has resumed... the psychological effects of these kinds of disasters can still linger, and sometimes for long after the event. Everyone reacts to these situations differently, and each person's case is different, but 'post-traumatic stress' can affect anyone involved in a disaster — even the relief workers that are there to help the people and region recover.

Some of the most effective ways of dealing with this are to take things slowly, so that you have time to adjust, but also to talk about it with others (especially those that haven't gone through it, and that can offer some emotional support). Getting the support of others, especially family, through organizations like the Red Cross, also helps, as it shows you that you aren't alone — that there is a support structure you can fall back on. However, the biggest, and probably best, thing for this is a return to normalcy — getting back into the normal daily routine that you had before the flooding, so that you have direct evidence that the answer to the question in your mind "What's next?" is that things go on as they did before.

[ More Geekquinox: How weather, geography made Alberta prime target for flood ]

There is already ample evidence of people willing to help out in the areas affected by the flooding. Thousands of people are out volunteering to help clean up. The Red Cross is taking donations, and they have also set up a hot line at 1-866-696-6484, for anyone to call to reconnect with loved-ones. The Salvation Army is also accepting donations.

One of the biggest events in the region, The Calgary Stampede, is also going forward this year (July 5th-14th), despite the Stampede grounds and Saddledome being flooded as the Elbow River overflowed its banks. Although some might see that as inappropriate or a waste, given the tragedy, events like this go a very long way to help people re-establish that level of normalcy in their lives.

For anyone looking to help out, you can donate to the Red Cross and Salvation Army (donating money helps the most as it gives the charity the most flexibility in how they can apply it).

There are pages to go to offer your help to different communities — such as the Calgary Clean Up facebook page, the Bow Valley and Region Community Clean Up Effort facebook page to help those in Banff, Canmore and Bragg Creek, and the High River Flood Support facebook page to help those in the High River area.

If you wish to donate goods, there are wish lists posted on many sites, along with where donations can be dropped off — including the Alberta Animal Rescue Society, Alpha House, the Calgary Humane Society and Neighbour Link Calgary.

Some of the worst-hit communities, such as the Siksika Nation, east of Calgary, needs volunteers and donations, calling for men's and women's shoes (of all sizes), men's and women's socks and underwear (new, of course), diapers sizes 4-6, bug spray, and games and entertain for children, but also (according to their Facebook page, which also has phone numbers to call to arrange drop-off) pillows, blankets, men's clothing, maternity clothes, and gift cards. Also, the residents of Morley are in need of clothing, food, blankets and other necessities, which can be taken to Morley community school.

(Photo courtesy: The Canadian Press)

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