Maxim Elramsisy | California Black Media

At least 20 people lost their lives due to the “Parade of atmospheric rivers” drenching California landscapes. The historic storm system, which has caused flooding, mudslides, levee breaches, heavy snow, hurricane force winds, and even a tornado, began late last year and has continued into the new year. 

On Jan. 12, Gov. Gavin Newsom requested an expedited major disaster declaration for California, which was approved by President Biden on Jan. 14, in Merced, Sacramento, and Santa Cruz counties. On Jan. 18, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties were also approved.

A Major Disaster declaration means damage is beyond the combined capabilities of local and state governments to respond. As a result, affected areas will be eligible for a range of federal assistance programs.

“The big storm event, the big weather system that’s been creating what has been called atmospheric rivers is coming to an end,” said Diana Crofts-Pelayo, Assistant Director of Crisis Communications and Public Affairs at the California Office of Emergency Services. “It’s not too late to be prepared for the next emergency. It really is incumbent on us all to talk as loved ones, family and friends about emergency plans, should another storm happen. Have an emergency kit read if you need to leave your house quickly. Communicating and checking in with loved ones will help be part of this overall culture of preparedness and resilience.”

Returning Home After a Flood

When returning home following a flood “the best advice is really to avoid flood water,” says Jason Wilken, Career Epidemiology Field Officer at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

“It can contain toilet waste and bad germs. It can have hazardous chemicals, including things like gasoline, and it can contain hidden heavy or sharp objects,” he warned. 

Floodwater can also be in contact with downed power lines and floods can also cause the migration of animals. So, you there may be living or dead animals in floodwater,” he added. “If you must come in contact with floodwater, wear rubber gloves and rubber boots. If you have children, do not allow them to play in or near floodwaters,” said Wilken. “Don’t let them play with toys or anything that flood water has gotten wet until those things can be disinfected.” 

Wilken said consuming contaminated food or water can make you very sick. “Other than undamaged cans or metal pouches, you should throw out any fresh or packaged food that was touched by flood water.” The outside of the containers should still be disinfected. He recommends using one tablespoon of bleach into one gallon of water for cleaning surfaces and utensils. Importantly, he notes, “NEVER MIX CLEANERS,” as it may cause dangerous chemical reactions.

If the hard surfaces in your home are wet for over 48 hours, mold may be present. Drying your home and removing items that have been water damaged is your best route for preventing the growth of mold.

Be careful and know the source of the water that you consume. Sealed bottled water can be safe, but if the surface of the bottle has been contaminated, boil it for one minute. If you get municipal tap water, listen to your local authorities regarding safety. If you get your water from a well, get in touch with local environmental health, or your water department for advice on how to test and disinfect your water source. 

Navigate California’s Social Safety Net 

Go to www.cdss.ca.gov for state disaster assistance and additional resources. Apply for federal help through FEMA Disaster Assistance at DisasterAssistance.gov or call 1(800) 621-3362. To learn more about help, local resources, or for app

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“For the over 5 million individuals that are currently participating in Calfresh, [including] those who have had power outages related to these storm events and have lost the food resources that they have purchased, can get those replaced within 10 days of their loss by just contacting their county social service agency,” says Kim Johnson, Director of California Department of Social Services.

A telephone number, “The Hope Line” 1(833)317-HOPE (4673), was created “for individuals who are impacted to simply navigate this change,” she says. 

Seniors facing isolation can call “The Friendship Line” at 1(888)670-1360.

Be Prepared. Help The Vulnerable

The importance of timely information cannot be understated. Be aware of your surroundings. Sign up for free emergency alerts at www.CalAlerts.org, authorities say. 

“Anytime there are these types of disasters, there are individuals who are disproportionately impacted by those disasters,” said Vance Taylor, Chief of the Office of Access and Functional Needs at the Office of Emergency Services. “We’re talking about older adults, people with disabilities, people who are economically disadvantaged, or transportation disadvantaged, people with access or functional needs, and so to ensure that our emergency management systems, programs and services are being rolled out in way that is equitable and accessible to everyone is a top priority,” said Taylor.

Insurance Quick Tips

Comprehensive auto insurance covers damage to your automobile – and “loss of use” coverage could reimburse a rental car if you need one. 

Home and renters’ insurance covers damage from fallen trees and wind. Mudslides and debris flow caused by landscape scarring from a previous wildfire is also covered by home and renters’ insurance.

Flood insurance is sold separately through the National Flood Insurance Program and takes effect 30 days after purchase in most cases.

Tips for Filing Insurance Claims:

  • Make sure you have a copy of your policy
  • Contact your insurance agent
  • Log conversations with your insurance company in a “claims diary,” including who you talked to, what you talked about, what agreements were made
  • Track all expenses while living away from home (hotel bills, restaurant expenses) 
  • Take pictures/video of the damages, but don’t start the remediation/cleaning until the adjuster conducts an inspection
  • Don’t get scammed. Use licensed contractors

For more information contact the Department of Insurance for help at 1(800)927-4357 or visit www.insurance.ca.gov