By Maduka Nweke
Unlike our country Nigeria, the coasts of USA experienced a high category hurricane but in this case its severity was accurately predicted and its fury managed to reduce loss to lives and property to the barest minimum. There are numerous lessons to be learned from how the disaster was averted. The exact time and date of hurricane Irene was accurately predicted. But in our clime, Nigeria lacks the equipment to either predict, prevent or handle disaster in the level of hurricane. Hurricane is a high class natural disaster. The greatest one that happened in USA has remained unimaginable yet the Americans contained it. Its severity and path was determined and sufficient early warning was made.
Nigeria had more than enough rains this year like last year yet no precautionary measures to forestall damage. Even when predictions were made about flooding, a lot of people doubted it while government felt nonchalant to the extent that preventive steps were not taken. It is not enough to inform early in the year that ‘this year’s rain will be heavy’. The time, date and severity of the rains can be accurately and precisely determined. This will then lead to adequate preparations to forestall its devastating effects. You do not begin to prepare for a flood on the day of the rains; you need to prepare ahead of time.
The Biblical Noah’s Ark was built before the rains began. Secondly, persons in the eye of hurricane Irene as in that case were advised to evacuate to safe heavens while others not likely to be severely affected were advised to pack their ‘go-bags’ containing basic life-saver items and take shelter in safe places like basements. Sports tournaments were re-scheduled. By diligent study, the likely path of flood waters can be charted with a view to evacuating those likely to be swept by its surging fury. With the likelihood of more severe climatic changes, it becomes imperative to have standard disaster relief centres to accommodate displaced persons in cases of emergency. It, therefore, becomes pertinent that Nigeria should become more proactive to her environmental protection and be able to identify on time when disaster is lurking around the corner.
Existing schools and religious centres can be modified to take on this additional responsibility. Such centres must be carefully located and sufficiently equipped to accommodate and cater for displaced persons. Understandably our disaster management capacity is still relief-based and in its infancy but for us to cope adequately with the severity of today’s climate-changing world, Nigeria definitely needs to upgrade its disaster management capacity especially in the area of climate studies. Inter-agency co-operation must be intensified while man-power training must be continuous and consistent. This, aside precautions, will raise the knowledge base of the officials handling the disaster.
Toll-free emergency telephone numbers must be made available to the general public while regional helicopters should be procured. Oftentimes, building development proceeds in an uncoordinated manner without any form of infrastructure (roads, gutters and canals) development with the result that housing development is executed without a defined finished road level to bench entrance levels. This trend must be checkmated as infrastructural development must precede housing development.
Every town or city must have upgraded infrastructural development masterplan while development control must be ensured to avoid erecting buildings on flood plains, canal paths and low-lying areas susceptible to flooding. As in all cases, failing to plan is planning to fail, we must develop our disaster management capacity from its current relief based status to a more proactive and responsive status.
How confident would one be if he learned that a hurricane, let’s name it “Hurricane Dele or Chike”, was headed for Lagos or Onitsha by tomorrow morning? In the last four weeks, Hurricanes Irma and Harvey have flooded their way into world news. The death toll from Irma has reached 22 and counting and Harvey is believed to have caused $75 billion worth of damage in Houston. Both natural disasters point to the effects of climate change; and while it may have had to prove itself, literally, people have differently remained averse to the realities.
The tragedy that befell Nigeria’s neighbours and brothers-in-human-suffering, Sierra Leone, was largely treated like the problem of a poor relation. There was no pre-disaster warning as far as it is known. Some actually said that the affected houses should not have been built in the areas where the poor people lived. They lived poor, died poor and were buried poor. Emergency services and mortuaries were over-stretched. Even grave diggers had a hard time digging graves.
The task of identifying the dead and giving them a decent burial started almost immediately. In all, about 400 bodies were buried. Entire families were wiped out. It was surely a deep human tragedy for our sister nation, for all of us, for all humanity. Six hundred persons remained unaccounted for at the end of the tragedy. The fear of disease-spread was palpable.
Cholera and other water-borne diseases were a real threat. In the end, the poor would be forgotten. The already-scant media attention would move to something else and the tragedy of living in the margins would continue.
What to do in first 24 hours after flood
After flood waters subside, document, work with your insurer, and clean up safe. Whether a flood is caused by ground water, falling water, or home water system malfunction, there are some best practices you’ll need to employ within the first 24 hours after the flood to ensure the safety of your home and family and give you the best outcome possible with your insurance company.
Avoid additional risks
If the flood was serious enough for you to leave your home, be sure you stay safe upon your return. The Federal Emergency Management Agency warns that you should check for any visible structural damage, such as warping, loosened or cracked foundation elements, cracks, and holes before entering the home and contact utility companies if you suspect damage to water, gas, electric, and sewer lines.
In addition, it’s important to have a working flashlight and turn off all water and electrical sources within the home, says Dr. Maurice A. Ramirez, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Disaster Preparedness.” Even if the power isn’t operational, it’s a good idea to go to your fuse box and turn off the main, plus all of the individual fuse connections. That way, if the power is reactivated, you’re not at risk for mixing standing water and electricity.
Before you remove any water or make any repairs, fully document the damage for your insurer by taking photos or video. Digital versions are best, says Ramirez, because they can be stored electronically and easily copied. If you start removing water or making repairs before you photograph the damage, you could potentially decrease the extent of your coverage, he says.
Protect your health
Even if the water in your home is clear, it could be contaminated by sewage or household chemicals. Ramirez recommends wearing waders, hip- or waist-high waterproof boots. In addition, wear rubber gloves to remove water-damaged possessions and to avoid contaminants, Ramirez notes. Be sure to throw out any food that may have come into contact with flood waters. FEMA recommends boiling water until authorities declare the water supply is safe.
Call your insurance company
Since you should notify your insurer soon as possible after the flood, it’s a good idea to keep your insurance company and local agent’s phone number in your always-ready emergency bag. (Note that the NFIP works through private insurance companies, so you contact your insurer just as you would for any other type of claim). In cases where a flood has affected a region or community, your agent may be busy handling his or her own flood issues. In that case, contact the insurance company’s headquarters.
Since groundwater flood damage typically isn’t covered by conventional homeowners insurance policies, you’ll need to work with your insurer to determine the cause of the flood and the extent of your coverage.
Advise your insurance representative of the state of your home and any repairs you intend to do immediately. Be sure to follow the insurance company’s direction about whether or not to wait for an adjuster to inspect the property before making repairs, says Ramirez. Document the damage and conversations at every stage of the process.
What can you expect in terms of time to get back to normal? It could be as little as one week if the claim and clean up is minimal to five to six months if you’re working with an insurance adjustor and contractor to complete extensive repairs.
Find out if you’re in disaster area
Once a region has been officially declared a “disaster area” by government authorities, property owners have access to increased resources, including public services to protect and remediate the area. In addition, you may have access to financial assistance. Your insurance company will have additional information on this or you can contact FEMA directly.
Once you get the OK from your insurer to remove the water, use a sump pump, available from most hardware or home supply stores for $150 to $500, and a wet vac ($40 to $130). Ramirez cautions that water is heavy—a cubic foot weight 10 lbs.—so be careful not to injure yourself, especially if you’re carrying buckets of water up and down stairs. Open doors and windows to allow fresh air to circulate so long as that won’t allow in more water.
Mitigate Mold Damage
Mold can develop within 24 to 48 hours of a flood, says Ashley Small of FEMA, so remove wet contents, including carpeting and bedding, as soon as possible. If an item has been wet for less than 48 hours, it may be salvageable. However, you’ll need to decide whether it holds enough monetary or sentimental value to try to do so. And notify your insurance company before removing items to ensure that you’re not affecting coverage. Always photograph the flood-soaked items.
Rugs, for example, may be dried and then cleaned professionally, which could cost $100 to $500 or more, depending on the size and number. Large pieces of furniture that are saturated will likely be difficult to dry effectively, and should often be discarded.
Mold growth can be controlled on surfaces by cleaning with a non-ammonia detergent or
pine oil cleaner and disinfecting with a 10% bleach solution. (Caution: Never mix ammonia and bleach products, as the resulting fumes can be highly toxic.) Always test this solution on a small area of the item or area you’re cleaning to be sure it doesn’t cause staining or fading.
Take photographs before removing wet wallboards and baseboards because insurers will want to see the height of any water damage to walls. Carefully poke holes at floor level in the
drywall to allow water trapped behind it to escape.
You may also wish to hire a flood restoration service—you can find pros under “Flood” or
“Disaster recovery” in your local phone book, or check with the Better Business Bureau, local Chamber of Commerce, or contractor recommendation sites, such as Angieslist.com or MerchantCircle.com. Look for those with Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification.
Secure the Property
As the homeowner, it’s your responsibility to secure the property so that no additional damage occurs. Put boards over broken windows and secure a tarp as protection if the roof has been damaged. Again, take photographs to prove to the insurance company that you have done
everything possible to protect your home against further damage. If the home is habitable, take precautions to keep yourself and your family safe from injury. Use flashlights to move around dark rooms, for example. If the home isn’t habitable, don’t try to stay there. Move to a shelter or alternate location. Consult your insurer to find out what provisions the company will make for temporary housing while your home is being repaired.