Returning home after a natural disaster
Be cautious when returning to your property. Before you return, make sure you check with local emergency services that it is safe to do so, and you have permission to return.
Put on protective clothing before entering your property, including:
- Sturdy boots and heavy-duty gloves.
- Overalls with long sleeves and trousers (preferably disposable).
- Special face masks (called ‘P2’) which filter out fine ash, dusts or asbestos fibres that dusk masks, handkerchiefs and bandanas do not.
Power outages and other electrical safety
Natural disasters can cause power outages.
- Do not turn on your gas and electricity until you are sure it is safe to do so.
- Have all wiring, gas and electrical equipment tested by an electrician.
- Restock and recharge batteries you used.
- Throw out food that has gone off in the fridge or freezer.
- If you have solar panels, check your solar system has been restored after any planned or unplanned outage. Not all solar inverters switch back on automatically.
For more information on how to prepare yourself, you house, family or property against an emergency, visit the TasNeworks website or the TasALERT GetReady website.
Be alert to all hazards
- If you have a septic tank, it may have been weakened so do not drive or walk over it.
- Minimise disturbance of dust and ash, which may contain hazardous materials.
- Do not spread ash around, moisten it with water to minimise dust.
- Be alert for hazardous materials such as LPG cylinders, chemicals (garden/farm), cleaning products, medicines and other burnt residues.
- If you are using portable generators make sure they are in a well-ventilated area to avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- There may also be overhead hazards such as falling trees and tree limbs and live power lines.
Mould is a type of fungi and belongs to a group of organisms that also include mushrooms and yeasts. Mould is present at low levels virtually everywhere, both indoors and outdoors.
People are exposed to mould on a daily basis without harm.
Mould looks like fuzz, or a stain or smudge and most commonly they are black, green, or white in appearance. They can produce a musty smell.
Mould needs a food source (dirt, dust, wood, organic matter) and moisture to grow. Mould growth typically occurs in wet or moist areas that are poorly ventilated.
Mould reproduces by making spores. These spores can travel through the air when mould is disturbed (e.g. during cleaning) and when they land on damp spots, they may continue to grow and spread.
There are many different types of mould and some have the potential to cause health problems in people who are sensitive or allergic to them. People with asthma, allergies, or other respiratory diseases are more sensitive to mould. People with weakened immune systems (such as HIV infection, chemotherapy patients, or organ transplant patients) are more at risk of a mould infection in their respiratory system.
If you are concerned about the effects of mould, seek medical advice.
Mould can only grow where there is moisture, so the key to preventing mould is to reduce dampness in your home. Parts of a house that are prone to mould growth are:
- Kitchens, bathrooms and laundries – due to condensation or high humidity
- Cupboards and corners – due to restricted ventilation
- Walls and ceilings – due to ineffective insulation
- Walls and floors that are subject to rising damp as a result of inadequate damp proof coursing.
Mould growth can be prevented or minimized by using heat, insulation and ventilation.
- Heat – a continuous, low level of dry heat will allow warmth to penetrate the walls and ceilings, keeping them dry.
- Insulation – insulated walls and ceilings stay warmer, keeping the heat in and reducing condensation.
- Ventilation – opening a door or window reduces moisture and humidity, both of which are required for mould growth.
All areas of a house should be regularly ventilated. Use exhaust fans when bathing, showering, cooking, doing laundry or drying clothes.
You can also reduce mould growth by:
- Opening curtains and blinds during the day.
- Wiping away condensation on windows and windowsills.
- Clean and dry surfaces that get wet regularly (e.g. bathroom tiles).
- Install exhaust fans in areas that are prone to condensation.
- Ensure all exhaust fans are vented to the outside air.
- Use lids on saucepans to reduce moisture.
- Keep rooms uncluttered to allow air movement.
- Hang wet clothes outdoors.
- Keep the roof, cladding and guttering in good repair to prevent leaks
- Install exhaust fans in areas that are prone to condensation
- All exhaust fans should be vented to the outside air.
If you can see or smell mould, you need to clean it up to prevent it from spreading and to prevent it from damaging the surfaces it grows on.
People who should avoid mould clean-up and avoid being present during clean-up include:
- Children under 12 years
- Pregnant women
- People over 65 years
- People with allergies and respiratory conditions such as asthma
- People with weakened immune systems such as HIV infection or chemotherapy patients.
Small areas of mould can be cleaned by using mild detergent or a vinegar mixture (4 parts vinegar to 1 part water).
If the mould is not readily removed, use diluted bleach (1 part bleach to 3 parts water).
When cleaning mould, do not dry-brush the area as you may disperse mould spores into the air which may cause health problems or establish growth in other areas.
Wear rubber gloves, safety glasses and make sure the area is well-ventilated.
Absorbent materials such as carpets, upholstery and mattresses need to be discarded if they are contaminated with mould.
If mould contamination is extensive then a professional cleaner should be consulted.
Visit the Department of Health Website for more information on Mould.
Throw away all perishable food if the power has been off for more than a day. For shorter outages, if food is still cold to touch (less than 50C) it is safe to use. Once cold or frozen food has warmed or thawed, it should be thrown out.
Repairing your home after a natural disaster
Repair work should only be undertaken when your house has been made safe to enter and is clear of debris. If you have insurance, you need to check first with your insurance provider before entering the property or making any changes.
When you start repair work
When you decide to repair your home, make sure that the person you choose to undertake repairs is licensed.
Building services providers, plumbers, gas-fitters and electricians must hold certain licences in order to perform certain work. Not all types of building work requires a licence, for example painting, concreting and landscaping.
- You can find a licensed tradesperson by searching the database on www.cbos.tas.gov.au.
- You will also need to check if you need building approval before undertaking extensive repair work on your property, particularly if the work affects structural components of the house. For more information, contact your local council or a building surveyor.
Fire may damage some building materials by direct contact or indirectly through radiated heat.
Unburnt parts of the home may also have been damaged as a result of the fire, even if they appear to be unaffected. For example, if structural components of the home have been burnt, this may undermine the stability of other parts of the home.
You should be aware of this and engage licensed tradespeople where necessary to assist you in repairing your home safely and effectively.
You should start repair work only when the house is clean of all mud, silt and debris, and is completely dry.
Depending on the type of building materials used in your home, water damage may occur immediately or as a result of prolonged exposure to water. You should be aware of this when planning and carrying out repair works.
- If you have tanks for drinking water, you should clean your roof and guttering of any debris and fire retardant that may have been sprayed on your roof. This will help to prevent contamination of your drinking water.
- If you have an onsite wastewater management system on your property (for example, a septic tank) you should engage a licensed plumber to check to make sure the drains to that system have not been blocked by debris from the fire.
Rainwater tanks - drinking water contamination
Emergencies like floods and bushfires can contaminate water with silt, dirt, mud, ash, chemical residues and dead animals.
The risk to human health is low from contaminated rainwater tanks in bushfire-affected areas, however, if fire-fighting foams have entered your tank, do not drink the water and do not give it to pets to drink.
If your rainwater tank is intact and the water has no abnormal look, smells or taste, it should be safe to use.
- It is safest to boil untreated water that you plan to drink. If the rainwater looks, smells or tastes unusual, assume it is contaminated and don’t drink it or use it for cooking, or preparing food.
- Check your roof and guttering for ash, debris and animal carcasses. Remove them as soon as possible to avoid contaminants getting flushed into your tank.
- If your rainwater has been contaminated, drain the tank and allow it to refill with clean rainwater or fill it with water from a registered water carter.
For more information visit www.dhhs.tas.gov.au/publichealth/water/drinking/rural/tanks
If your property is damaged in a bushfire, flood or storm, you should be cautious about the risk of asbestos when sorting through debris or doing repairs or renovations.
Asbestos is a known carcinogen. Disturbing any amount of asbestos can release fibres into the air. These fibres could be inhaled or swallowed, leading to significant health issues.
The safe handling of asbestos material is critical. If you suspect your property could be contaminated, do not start clean-up until you have been told it is safe to do so.
Where am I likely to find asbestos?
If a house, garage, shed or commercial building was built or renovated before the 1990s, it probably contains some form of asbestos.
Asbestos has been used in over 3,000 products, including those used in home areas commonly renovated or repaired:
- bathrooms and kitchens
- under vinyl floors, behind tiles and in carpet underlay
- carports, sheds and outbuildings
- guttering, downpipes and roof sheeting
You can’t tell if a material contains asbestos just by looking at it. Only scientific testing of a sample can confirm this.
Leave asbestos clean up to the professionals
If you suspect damage at your property involves asbestos containing material, get the product tested, or assume it is asbestos.
Removal requirements for asbestos depend on whether it is friable or non-friable and the amount of asbestos containing material present. A licensed asbestos removalist should be engaged to identify asbestos, prepare samples for testing, and manage asbestos removal. Although a homeowner can remove less than 10m2 of non-friable asbestos themselves, untrained people should not attempt to do this. It is strongly recommended that asbestos is removed by a licensed asbestos removalist as asbestos removal is a health risk requiring planning, preparation and strict safety standards. All friable asbestos must be removed by a Class A licensed asbestos removalist.
It is illegal to dispose of asbestos waste in your kerbside bin. Asbestos must be disposed of at a licensed landfill that accepts asbestos waste. It is strongly recommended that a licensed asbestos removalist is engaged to dispose of any asbestos waste.
Visit the WorkSafe Tasmania website to find an asbestos removalist or assessor.
Use protective clothing
If you are visiting your property and sorting through debris, wear protective clothing and footwear to minimise your exposure to asbestos, airborne dust and other hazards.
Safety equipment should include:
- disposable P1 or P2 face masks. Make sure you get a good seal around the face and mouth; take care if you have a beard or facial hair that might prevent this. Face masks can make normal breathing difficult so talk to your doctor if you have a heart or lung condition first.
- disposable coveralls with fitted hood and cuffs
- boots without laces
- boot covers
- protective gloves.
You can purchase these items from a hardware store, but be aware they may be in short supply during a crisis.
To use protective clothing and equipment safely:
- put your protective gear on before entering your property
- remove it before you leave
- place it in a garbage bag and seal it after use; dispose of it as asbestos waste
- clean your shoes before wearing them again
- wash your hands thoroughly with soap.
You should minimise your disturbance of dust and ash. If possible, dust should be gently wetted down before you begin using a fine spray, not high-pressure hosing.
If you’re unsure whether your property contains asbestos and you don’t have the appropriate personal protective equipment, avoid areas where there is ash or dust that may contain asbestos fibres.
Help with asbestos-related issues
For more information about asbestos, visit the WorkSafe Tasmania website or call them on 1300 366 322.
Riverbank protection after a flood
Unseasonal and heavy rainfall events can cause changes to creek and riverbeds and may lead to bank erosion and localised flooding.
Management of stream systems after these events can help reduce further erosion and long-term change in stream flow patterns.
Stream bank erosion
A common form of damage from high stream flows is erosion and undercutting of outside bends of stream channels. This can happen where water flows close to the outer bank of a bend, removing soil and bank material, and potentially causing slumping and undermining of trees and other vegetation.
Erosion of this nature is generally a response to very high flows in a stream and often once streams return to normal flows the erosion threat is lower.
Eroding banks can be an issue where nearby infrastructure such as pump houses, fences or buildings are located on or near the bank.
Controlling or reducing erosion
Controlling or reducing this type of erosion can be done in several ways.
The quickest approach is to undertake works such as battering or sloping the steep eroding bank back to a stable grade, often around 1 in 2 (eg a slope where 1m of vertical height slopes over 2m of horizontal distance – approximately 30 degrees slope) and revegetating the bank with grasses and native ground layer plants like reeds or saggs. This method can slow down the flow of water and reduce the potential for erosion to scour the bank. Good vegetation cover is the key to maintaining stable banks of this type.
In areas where the erosion is active or in larger fast flowing streams, it may be desirable to place angular rock materials (such as large quarry rock) at the base (or toe) of the stream bank. This type of work is specialised and should ideally be done with advice from a river engineer or geomorphologist. The angular rock locks into place at the point where bank erosion is most active and will provide greater resistance to erosion. Use of river cobble and rounded stones is not as effective at preventing bank erosion as the cobbles do not ‘lock in’ to each other and as a result can be easily moved by a strong current.
On smaller waterways, and where bank erosion is not as active in normal flows, the most effective means to protect banks from erosion and to keep the stream in its normal channel is to plant or encourage suitable riverine vegetation to establish on the low to mid banks of the stream.
Ideally plants which have good fibrous or deep rooting characteristics like reeds, tussock grasses, saggs, matt rushes and tea trees are well suited to establishment close to the water’s edge and around the toe of the bank. Larger plants like tea trees, she oaks, dogwoods and currant bushes can be effective at the mid slope of a riverbank or on the inside bend of a channel as they will slow the flow around the river’s banks.
Upper bank areas are well suited to deeper rooting woody plants like blackwoods, and some eucalypts. Along with understorey plants like tea tree, tussock grasses, rushes and other shrubs.
Planting vegetation can be a low-cost option for providing long term protection of stream banks, ideally however sites should be fenced and plantings done densely so that as many roots as possible are active in the bank.
The Understorey Network has a website that provides lists of plant species suitable for riverbank revegetation.
Erosion of new channels
The other common type of erosion that may occur as a result of unseasonal or heavy rainfall events is floodplain erosion. One example is where new channels may form as a result of a stream breaking its banks and moving in large volumes over a floodplain.
Generally, erosion of this type starts at the point where the floodplain delivers water back into the stream, at the downstream end of the floodplain. Gully erosion then works back up stream across the floodplain until a new channel has been dug.
To stop this type of erosion requires technical advice and in general the construction of gully control structures. In some cases, planting of vegetation can help to hold up floodplain erosion by slowing and diverting water flows.
Dealing with logjams or debris after a flood
Floods can move substantial amounts of woody debris into waterways, resulting in large logjams in places that were relatively clear before.
Assessing your logjam or debris
Your first step should be to assess the debris in your stream or river. Scoping out the cost and benefit of any potential works is important in deciding the practicality and feasibility of any action.
The management of debris in streams or rivers can be expensive. In some areas unstable banks and slopes can make the removal of debris dangerous. Complete or partial removal of debris can also have a significant impact on wildlife habitat and stream or river stability.
Things to consider include:
- What would happen if the debris or logjam was left in place?
- Does it provide benefits for wildlife, stream or river health?
- Is it likely to prevent further erosion?
- Is there more debris upstream that could make the problem bigger in later years?
- Could the debris clear itself in the next flood?
- Is the debris actually causing damage such as erosion or stream or river diversion?
- Does it threaten infrastructure?
- What would it cost to remove the debris?
- How would it be done?
- What impact would the removal have on the stream, river and surrounding banks?
- What impact would the removal have downstream?
- Are there any legal implications? (See ‘Before removing or realigning logjams or debris’)
A stream or river channel must be blocked substantially before the movement of flood waters is affected. Generally, such blockages are obvious, however in some circumstances the level of the flow may rise without necessarily going over the bank.
Smaller amounts of debris may have little effect on the water levels.
Every stream and river is different, but it is worth carefully considering your options. If the amount of debris in your stream or river has changed considerably after the flood, does it need removal? Removal or, more commonly, realignment of the debris may only be necessary if it is blocking a substantial part of the channel.
It is recommended that any proposed works involving the large-scale removal of obstacles be assessed by a river engineer or geomorphologist. This should ensure that work to remove or manage an immediate problem does not create other problems downstream or elsewhere.
Before removing or realigning logjams or debris
There are a number of questions to be answered if you are considering the removal of debris from your creek.
Who owns the waterway?
Before taking any action you need to determine the ownership of the segment of stream or river where the debris or logjam is located. Simply because the waterway runs through your property, this does not necessarily mean that you are the owner of this segment. You may share ownership with a neighbour, or the waterway may be a Crown reserve.
To check the ownership of the relevant part of the stream or river, you can:
- Check your property title to see if the stream or river is included in your title. You do need to be careful with this. If the waterway forms part of the boundary of your property you could potentially only have ownership to the centre of the waterway. You may also share ownership with a neighbour.
- Use the LISTmap service to search for your property. Use your roadside address to search and identify if any Crown reserves exist on your waterway.
What do I do if the waterway is a Crown reserve waterway?
If you are certain that the segment of stream or river is a Crown reserve (including either the stream bank or the channel alone) and you believe that the blockage has the potential to adversely impact on your property, you should contact the Crown Land Services Message Service on 6233 6413 to determine whether removal of debris or other work is necessary or email PropertyServices@parks.tas.gov.au and forward photographs of the site and title details.
Please note: If you wish to do any work yourself on a Public Reserve you need to first seek permission from Crown Land Services, or the relevant land manager if the area has another land status such as Conservation Area, administered by the Parks and Wildlife Service.
What do I do if the waterway is a private waterway?
If you have determined that you have ownership of the affected segment of stream or river and that works are required to remove or realign the debris or logjam, there are a number of things that you need to consider before planning and undertaking your works.
Please note: You will be responsible for any costs incurred for the works. You could also be held liable for any damage to downstream infrastructure if this occurs as a result of your works.
Before planning and undertaking your works you also need to consider:
- Do you need a works permit from your local Council? Works in or near streams and rivers may require a works permit from your Council. Check with your Council before you start works.
- Under the Forest Practices Act 1985 the removal of native timber from a stream or river may require a forest practices plan. Check with the Forest Practices Authority. Call 6233 7966, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the office at 30 Patrick Street, Hobart for advice.
- If there are threatened species such as giant freshwater lobsters or burrowing crayfish in the stream or river, a permit may be required from the Inland Fisheries Service (IFS). Call 6261 8050, email email@example.com or visit the head office at 17 Back River Road, New Norfolk for advice. It is recommended you contact the IFS before removal of a logjam is attempted.
- If you think that the logjam or debris potentially contains hazardous waste, including materials such as sewage sludge, or contaminated soils (eg oil or petroleum contaminated soil) then approval for its handling (including disposal) must be obtained from the Environment Protection Authority (EPA). Call the EPA’s Pollution Incidents and Complaints Hotline on 1800 005 171 for advice.
To minimise the risk of causing environmental harm, works to reposition or remove debris or logjams should adopt the practices outlined in the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania’s Environmental Best Practice Guidelines 2. Construction Practices in Waterways and Wetlands.
Great care should be taken using heavy machinery along or within a stream or river channel. There are significant health and safety issues to be considered. They include stability of the banks, moving heavy and/or unstable timber, the stability of the stream bed, as well as the potential to release trapped water downstream.
Operators of machinery should be experienced in working within river environments.