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Rebuilding After Austin Floods? Watch Out For These Health Hazards

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News
Ricardo Fabian removes damp insulation from the walls of his house in Dove Springs. Volunteers are needed to help clean up after the recent flooding in southeast Austin, but experts urge people to head down prepared.

The Halloween flooding in Onion Creek devastated an already underserved community in southeast Austin. Now, people like 18-year-old Frank Amaya need help with the cleanup of their streets and neighborhoods.

"My home was flooded. All three cars were totaled. My Dodge ended up in a forest all crushed with other cars," Amaya said. He was one of the hundreds of people who came to Perez Elementary School Tuesday night to vent frustrations with city officials and learn about recovery efforts.

"We know in our experience with West, Texas, and with the Bastrop fires and even being in Moore, Oklahoma, the response to the South Austin flooding has been significantly less than the efforts that we saw in the other disasters," says Kimberly Rigsby with theAustin Disaster Relief Network, a group of churches coordinating  volunteer efforts.

The network is hoping to get 5,000 volunteers out this weekend to help in the clean up – but it can be messy work. They’re urging volunteers to wear jeans, not shorts, and to bring hard-soled shoes and leather gloves.

"I have heard some reports of families, especially children, who’ve been in the water day-in and day-out, almost a week now with no help,"Rigsby says. "I’ve heard stories of children being sick or not feeling well. But as far as the volunteers who are coming down there for the day and then leaving, I haven’t heard stories of their health being negatively impacted."

But Dr. Phil Huang, medical director for the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department, urges people to take precautions. He says in a flood, it’s important to be aware of the kinds of water you might come in contact with.

For instance: Clear water is tap or rain water. Gray water is from sinks, showers or tubs. Black water is contaminated from human or animal waste. "If you’re dealing, for instance, with black water, then you really need to make sure that you're wearing rubber gloves, eye goggles, and respiratory masks when cleaning," Huang says. "Change your work clothes and boots and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after you work in these contaminated areas."

Huang also urges volunteers not to forget about mold. People sensitive to it could expect certain side effects.

"Stuffy nose, irritated eyes, wheezing or skin irritation, and then people who are actually allergic to mold can have difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and people with chronic lung disease could actually develop mold infections in their lungs," he says.

Officials urge people “when in doubt, take it out.” Wet items contribute to mold growth. Soap and water and a bleach solution can also go a long way.

You can find information on how to dress and where to volunteer at

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