Two days after Hurricane Ida blew through Louisiana, residents are just beginning to assess the damage. Power was lost completely in New Orleans. And while providers have begun to slowly restore power to one pocket of New Orleans on Wednesday, many Louisianans still under punishing summer temperatures, are bracing for another disaster: mold.
The high winds of Hurricane Ida, which reached 150 mph, could have blown water into houses. Roof damage or blown out windows can also trap water inside a house leading to the mold you can smell, and the mold you can see.
"Once they start to grow, it's exponential," said Claudette Reichel, a professor and extension housing specialist at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center.
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Mold colonies typically form in three days but can also start growing after 48 hours. If people smell mold in their house, then they have mold. Unless a house flooded, then the mold will be on the surface and visible, experts said.
"The most important issue is to act fast," Reichel said. "If you have wet carpeting, wet upholstery, wet mattresses, those need to be removed as soon as possible."
Wood, metal and plastic with mold can all be cleaned. Sheetrock with mold on the surface can also be cleaned, but if the mold eats into the top paper layer then the sheetrock must be removed.
But immediacy may prove to be an issue. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, many New Orleans homes remained flooded for weeks and residents were locked out of the city. People often returned to rooms cover in mold. While flooding was limited in the city center, evacuated residents are still being told by city officials not to return.
Across Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards warned evacuated residents from the areas hit by Hurricane Ida not to return until it is safe to do so, as critical infrastructure has been destroyed in the hardest hit parishes.
Dangers of mold cleanup
Reichel recommended that anything that can be moved should be cleaned outside. Goggles, gloves and an N95 respirator would be worn during the cleanup.
Although many people use bleach to clean mold, Reichel does not recommend it. Bleach kills mold and stops its growth, but dead mold is still hazardous.
Mold can also be dangerous for people with asthma or other respiratory issues.
"Because it's in the grocery store, people think it's perfectly safe," she said. A hydrogen peroxide-based household cleaner is the safest product.
Even if water did not get into a house, there is still a small risk of mold growth. If temperatures drop at night, dew could form inside a house and make furniture damp.
"That's when in the old days, when they closed up they threw sheets over the furniture," Reichel said.
Companies can be hired to remove mold. In Louisiana they must be licensed by the state.
Sheldon Yellen, CEO of BELFOR Property Restoration, warned that after a disaster like Hurricane Ida, unlicensed contractors often try to tackle mold remediation.
"It's absolutely critical that people do a few minutes of due diligence," Yellen said.
BELFOR is sending up to 2,400 out-of-state workers to Louisiana. Most of their existing clients are commercial properties.
The cost to remediate mold in home can range from $1,000 to $10,000s, Yellen said.
Reichel, however, realizes that most homeowners cannot afford these services and after a major disaster they can be hard to secure.
"The reality is the vast majority of homeowners are not going to have that luxury," she said.
Unless someone is elderly, has asthma, a mold allergy or other respiratory ailments, including COVID-19, they can tackle mold remediation themselves.
While the physical damage to a home can be substantial Reichel noted that people often overreact to the health dangers of mold.
The effects of exposure to mold depend on your susceptibility, said Felicia Rabito, a professor in the department of epidemiology at Tulane School of Public Health. For people who have asthma, it can cause attacks or allergic reactions.
"Heavy exposure is unhealthy for anybody," Reichel said. "But mold is part of life. It's in the air you're breathing right now."
A guide to mold remediation can be found at www.lsuagcenter.com/lahouse. An extensive post-disaster guide for HUD called "Rebuild Healthy Homes," can also be downloaded as a free app for Apple and Android phones.
Andrew Capps and Maria Clark contributed to this story.
This article originally appeared on The American South: Hurricane Ida: Mold a big concern in Louisiana after storm