Pols’ urgent warning: do not rebuild from Sandy too quickly

Posted at 10:40 PM, Nov 13, 2012
and last updated 2012-11-22 14:44:00-05

JAMES FORD | @jamesfordtv

Rebuilding quickly after a major storm like Sandy may sound good conceptually, but doing so too quickly could spread illness among people and cause irreparable structural damage in buildings.

That’s the message that elected officials tried to convey to residents in Staten Island and throughout the Tri State on Tuesday. They said they had gotten their information from city health department officials, who, they claimed, had been left out by Mayor Bloomberg from the city’s’ recovery planning process.

The problem for most homeowners, said New York State Senator Andrew Lanza, (R) Staten Island, at a news conference, is the buildup of mold when the frames of homes aren’t fully dried out from flood damage.

“There’s a potential ticking time bomb inside their walls,” Lanza said about mold that forms on wood framing, interior walls and the insides of siding in homes that took on flood water and, in some cases, sewage from Sandy’s storm surge.

If drywall and sheetrock are not removed at least a foot past where they had become saturated during a flood, the frames and studs underneath them can grow mold. Mold can cause asthma and other illnesses, and damp building parts can form harmful fungi other than mold as well. It is all potentially hazardous.

“You could lose your home over this,” said Congressman Michael Grimm, (R) Staten Island, regarding the possible effects of unprevented mold growth.

“All the things [homeowners] through,” Grimm said, “[like] tearing walls down to the studs, drying it out, all of that would have to be done again at a very, very high cost” if the process is not done properly, the member of congress told PIX11 News after a news conference on the subject.

The main message of the press conference was that homes have to be dried out completely before worry-free rebuilding can be done.

“Does that mean a week, does that mean ten days?” asked City Councilman Vincent Ignazio. He answered his own rhetorical question. “It depends on the climate of your basement and the climate of the outside.”

The notion of slow and deliberate reconstruction, Ignizio and other officials at the news conference said, runs counter to the city’s Rapid Recovery Plan for rebuilding properties and other assets in the city damaged by Sandy. The reason for that, the elected officials said, was that the city’s recovery planning did not adequately include experts from its own department of health.

“The fact that they haven’t been at the table in the city’s rapid response tells me this is one of the things slipping through the cracks,” Congressman Grimm told PIX11 News.

Joanne Vidal, who owns her home in the Midland Beach section of Staten Island, had gotten help from a variety of volunteers to gut the entire first floor of her two storey home. A look inside of the structure showed extensive work done in accordance with officials’ recommendations.

The drywall and sheetrock in Vidal’s home had been removed from floor to ceiling, and some of the framework for her interior walls had been replaced with new, dry wood. That which had not was drying out, and Vidal told PIX11 News that she had no intention of rebuilding until it was all dry.

However, regarding the outer walls of her home, which had flooded above the doorways of every room on its first floor, Vidal said she was unclear as to what to do.

“I know some people took off their siding,” she said, “but I have to look into that. I don’t know.”

At his news conference, Rep. Grimm and other officials who had joined him, had an answer. They said that if floodwaters had reached the interior walls, the exterior walls would have to go as well. That meant that siding had to be removed.

They also recommended following to the letter renovation recommendations listed on the federal Environmental Protection Agency website.

PIX11 made both a verbal and an email request of Mayor Bloomberg’s office to respond to the local elected officials’ claims that the Department of Health had not been fully included in the city’s recovery plans. PIX11 received no response from City Hall.