A Hurricane’s Moldy Legacy
power outages make
removing mold a
tough mission in the
aftermath of disaster.
By Katie Dwyer
Where there’s flooding there’s mold, but remediation after a disaster can prove challenging.
When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, a storm surge dumped at least 15 feet of water onto the city of New Orleans. The National Weather Service and the CDC later reported that 80 percent of the city remained flooded for two weeks. It took 43 days to pump flood waters out of lower-lying areas, and the cleanup
process was stalled by the arrival of Hurricane Rita one month later.
The standing water and Louisiana’s warm temperatures created ideal
conditions for mold growth. Environmental researchers estimated that more than
100,000 homes in the flooded areas experienced significant mold damage.
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals recommended property
owners remove and replace any drywall that had been in flood waters.
Similar conditions played out over this year’s turbulent hurricane season.
Hurricane Harvey inundated Houston with roughly 50 inches of rain — more
than the city had seen in the past several years combined. According to a report
by the Washington Post, 9 trillion gallons of rain fell across Southeast Texas just
two days after the storm made landfall.
A previous construction boom in the Houston area covered up much of the
surrounding land with concrete and steel, preventing water from draining.
Environmental carriers are ready for an influx of mold claims as cleanup
continues in Houston and other hard-hit areas.
“We saw a spike in the amount of mold claims in Florida after previous
hurricanes. We saw it in New Orleans after Katrina,” said Jeff Slivka, president,
New Day Underwriting Managers.
“In many cases the buildings just weren’t constructed to withstand water
intrusion, especially rain driven by hurricane winds. Sometimes the parking lot
wasn’t graded correctly, so all of that water drained into the basement of a structure.”
CHALLENGES IN MOLD REMEDIATION
It doesn’t take much water to cause mold growth. Small leaks or clogged
gutters can lead to mold that makes its way into a building’s structure. When
several feet of water stand for weeks at a time, the problem is magnified.
Flooded properties typically need to be gutted to remove moldy material,
thoroughly dried out, cleaned and usually sprayed with an anti-microbial solution
to help prevent further growth. The process can take months and cost millions, but
the impact also depends on the type of property and the level of water intrusion.
“An older building that’s wood-framed could be damaged beyond repair
altogether. A concrete and steel high-rise building can take several months and
even up to a year to remediate after extensive flooding,” said John Matthew
Lumelleau, team leader of Lockton’s Texas-based environmental practice.
Lumelleau and his team were on the front lines in the aftermath of Hurricane
Harvey — an experience he said he hopes never to repeat.
“When Buffalo Bayou flooded in Houston, it rose about four stories above the
subgrade of a high-rise office building that was right across the street from where
we were stationed. When the water receded, contractors had to hook up a large
conduit and pump water out of the building for 72 hours straight,” he said.
“Then emergency staging began.
“To the extent there is widespread
It’s around-the-clock, 24/7 work to dry
out the building with large fans and
other drying devices powered by large
generators. They’re still engaged in
that process now, and it will probably
continue for another five months
before they can get people back in
Access issues and lack of power —
common obstacles impeding disaster
recovery — can extend that timeline.
Puerto Rico has felt this most acutely.
damage within a region, there
may be a shortage of construction
workers and resources necessary
to remove water-impacted
materials and thoroughly dry
out a building after an event.”
— Craig Richardson, EVP, Chubb Environmental
• Flooding and warm environments
are a recipe for mold growth.
• Mold remediation in commercial
structures can take months and
• Property and environmental
coverages for cleanup and
reconstruction may overlap.