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Thursday, April 28, 2011 - 6:47am

Cleaning Up After the Storm

Powerful storms that tore through the South Wednesday and Thursday morning wrecked buildings and killed at least 13 people in Georgia. They also left a mess for residents and state and local governments to clean up.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration said residents and workers need to be careful as they embark on cleanup efforts and protect themselves.

"Emergency response should not put you in the hospital emergency room," said Cindy Coe, OSHA's regional administrator in Atlanta. "Storm recovery work encompasses a wide range of safety and health hazards, which can be minimized by knowledge, safe work practices and personal protective equipment."

OSHA warned of potential illness from exposure to contaminated water or food, electrical hazards from downed power lines and portable generators, and drowning after being caught in moving water or while removing water from flooded structures.

The Restoration Industry Association offered these suggestions as residents go about cleaning up after the storms:

* Keep a notebook to track dates and times of conversations with individuals pertaining to your insurance claim.
* Save receipts for meals, hotels, toiletries, replacement clothing, prescriptions, etc.
* Take photos of each room for future reference and insurance claims. This will provide a digital inventory of some visible contents.
* If electrical appliances, including televisions and computers are damaged by water, do not turn them back on when power is restored. This can result in electric shock and do further damage to the appliance. Electronics can often be cleaned and restored by knowledgeable contractors.
* Homeowners with appropriate insurance coverage may hire any restoration company they choose and are not limited to only those suggested by an insurer.
* Don't use bleach to disinfect since it is corrosive and can react with other substances. Use household disinfectants.
* Remove standing water from flat surfaces by sponging and blotting.
* Hard surfaces can be disinfected as well as some soft goods, depending on their washability.

Check out cleaning, restoration and other contractors through the state of Georgia’s professional licensing boards, the local Better Business Bureau, or the Restoration Industry Association.

OSHA has more information on keeping disaster-recovery workers safe on its web site.