With record rainfall comes rampant flooding, and after the floodwaters dry come the aftereffects.

With record rainfall comes rampant flooding, and after the floodwaters dry come the aftereffects.


Home restoration following flooding can be a dangerous, expensive endeavor. Not only can bacteria fester in the nooks and crannies of a home, but displaced wildlife can move in. Many residents in western Arkansas and northeast Oklahoma do not have flood insurance, which compounds the cost of cleanup.


Fort Smith saw 19.85 inches of rainfall accumulation in May, destroying the average recorded amount of 5.47 inches, said meteorologist Joe Sellers with the National Weather Service in Tulsa. Some surrounding areas saw 20 inches or more.


It was a record amount of rain for the region. The next-closest recorded amount of rainfall in a month for Fort Smith was 15.02 inches in June 1945. Right behind that was July 1895 with 14.99 inches, according to Sellers.


Northeast Oklahoma was hit particularly hard. Three tornadoes were confirmed in LeFlore County, one in Sequoyah County and another just south of Sequoyah County in Webbers Falls. The strongest was an EF-2 that hit Poteau on May 25.


At least 20 homes were destroyed in LeFlore County, with more than 160 damaged by flooding, strong winds and tornadoes. FEMA surveyed the county on May 30 and Monday, observing damaged homes, businesses and infrastructure, said Michael Davidson, LeFlore County emergency manager.


Most of western Arkansas and northeast Oklahoma was declared a disaster area. Two flood-related fatalities were reported earlier in the month. Dennis "Dink" Donaho, 60, was found May 13 in the floodwaters of the Poteau River near his Spiro ranch. The body of 19-year-old Skylar Combs of Alma was found May 15 after an extensive search along Frog Bayou near Rudy.


For those whose homes became waterlogged in the flooding, the process of restoration can be a tricky one, said Derek Latimer, general manager with Service Master Restore, which serves much of western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma.


"At that point with groundwater, you’re basically doing a lot of demo (demolition). You’re dealing with a lot of materials that can’t be dried out successfully," he said. "Structural wood, things of that nature … all those things can be treated and dried out and they’ll be fine. When it comes to groundwater, it becomes a different animal."


Carpet, insulation and other porous building material can harbor microbes coming from dirty floodwaters. Restoration crews have to wear personal protective equipment, similar to what a firefighter typically wears, to treat the affected areas of the home without running the risk of exposure, Latimer said.


Some residents might be able to take care of their own homes depending on the extent of the damage, but it’s a lot to take on, he said.


"There are definitely a lot of things to consider," Latimer said. "Mold is a huge one. If you let those materials get wet and stay wet, they’ve been introduced to a lot of mold and bacteria, and it’s a perfect incubator for them to start growing. Mold can start growing within 72 hours if it’s present."


Some services such as Service Master Restore offer free inspections. Latimer recommended at least getting a consultation before tackling a flood-damaged home.


Injuries or sickness resulting from flood cleanup is a very real concern, said Jamie Dukes, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma State Department of Health.


Recreational water illnesses stemming from Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, norovirus and E. coli are a risk in rivers and lakes anyway, but with added pollution from pesticides, garbage, sewage and other hazards, the danger is elevated in floodwaters, Dukes said.


"There are just a number of different toxins that can be found in that water," she said. "We really encourage people to stay away from it in general, and especially avoid it for recreational purposes."


The LeFlore County Health Department has offered mobile tetanus shots throughout the area. Tetanus shots are a good idea, but they aren’t an end-all solution, Dukes said.


"There’s no magic vaccination," said. "Of course, we’re always going to recommend that people stay up-to-date on their vaccinations."


For anyone with an open cut or wound — even something as small as a cut in between the toes — bacteria can get in and cause infections.


Anyone experiencing the symptoms of such an infection should see a doctor. A list of diseases and their symptoms can be found on the Oklahoma State Department of Health website.


Aside from the spread of diseases resulting in flooding, there are also critters.


Wildlife conservation officials do what they can to help residents who have had unwelcome animals move into or near their homes. For the most part, animals like snakes, frogs, insects and others don’t want anything to do with people, but they need a place to go, too, said Micah Holmes, information supervisor with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.


"Besides water snakes, any snake that gets flooded out is going to be looking for a dry place," he said. "We just encourage folks to use common sense. If you don’t know what a snake is and can’t positively identify it, don’t touch it. Call someone who can help you move it."


Holmes recommended contacting a local nuisance wildlife control operator to deal with unwanted animals in homes. A list of operators and resources can be found on the Oklahoma Department Wildlife Conservation website and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission website.