HURRICANES are devastating natural disasters, leaving many families displaced.
But when Hurricane Ian hit Florida in September, it wasn't displacement that one family had to deal with, their main concern was mould.
Christian Childers and Kendra Elliott’s home had been swamped in five inches of water.
Within a few days, the water levels dropped, but in its place, toxic mould began to grow.
Mould is known as a silent killer, as respiratory issues can build up without a person immediately realising there is an issue.
It was this mould that Kendra says killed her husband Christian, who suffered two asthma attacks that required hospitalisation, before dying on January 2.
Doctors told the mum that Christian had suffered a hypoxic brain issue due to a lack of oxygen.
In the weeks before his death, Christian, 26, had experienced fatigue and shortness of breath due to the family's living conditions.
After the hurricane they had been forced to board up a bathroom and bedroom where the mould had been at its worst while waiting for help.
Kendra said the mould had continued to grow, but said she had been reassured by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that the property was liveable.
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"It’s like a nightmare. They told us the house was still liveable. Well clearly it wasn’t liveable because he died. They forced us to live in a death trap," she told The Independent.
Kendra said that the family had been trying to move for months but with rocketing rents – they needed help.
She claimed they had begged FEMA and the Red Cross for assistance with either fixing the mold or moving, but were allegedly denied every time.
Kendra claims that FEMA denied the family's requests for housing assistance and alleges that their home would still be classed as habitable by FEMA "because there’s a roof intact."
The family, including their two sons, nine-year-old Riley and four-year-old Colton were also left without electricity for two weeks, with the pipes having also burst, the mum claimed.
She added that the landlord had also sent a handyman round to fix up the property, but that while looking for the source of mould, he busted an inner wall which sent 'black sludge oozing out'.
How the mould in your home can damage your health
Mould and damp get worse when temperatures drop.
Cold and flu viruses, which can cause respiratory infections, can also thrive in colder temperatures and poorly ventilated, damp environments.
Asthma and Lung UK say mould in your home…
- Can damage the lungs
- Trigger asthma attacks
- Trigger allergies in those who already suffer
- Exacerbate or cause mental health issues.
Sarah Woolnough, chief executive at Asthma and Lung UK said: "Exposure to mould and damp can be very harmful to our lungs as mould releases spores that can be breathed in, causing symptoms like coughing, wheezing, sneezing or watery eyes.
“Mould and fungi are a major trigger for asthma attacks and can worsen symptoms for those with other lung conditions, leave them fighting for breath. Babies, small children, older people and people with allergies are more likely to be affected.
“There is a link between poor housing and asthma, because of things like mould and damp."
Black mould can pose a serious health hazard to asthmatics and people with weakened immune systems and can trigger attacks, according to the CDC.
In large enough quantities it will pose a danger to anyone.
Kendra explained that the problem began when Hurricane Ian flooded their home, turning some of the walls into mush, and leaving a bedroom and bathroom completely in habitable.
She she last saw her fiancé on Christmas Eve when he was on a ventilator.
He was eventually put into a medically induced coma before being declared brain dead.
Now, the family wants to use their story to bring attention to the red tape and bureaucratic challenges that they faced and to demand FEMA change their policies.
"There are so many other families going through this and this has to stop and this will stop. I don’t wish this upon anybody," she said.
The family have a GoFundMe page to raise money, which will go towards them purchasing a mobile home to live in.
Kendra added that a toxicology report round that the 'numbers were through the roof' on their former house, causing her to be concerned for her son's health.
Jeroeon Douwes, a professor of public health at Massey University, previously wrote in The Conversation: “Prolonged exposure to high levels of indoor dampness can reduce lung function and cause chronic health problems such as asthma.
“Those who already suffer from asthma and allergies are more likely to have more severe symptoms when exposed.”
He added: “People who live in damp and mouldy homes are also at increased risk of depression.”
In a statement FEMA said: "Every death is a tragedy, and we are deeply saddened that another life has been cut short in the wake of Hurricane Ian.”
How to prevent mould in your home
Asthma and Lung UK are aware that mould can exacerbate or trigger asthma symptoms in those with the condition.
They give their top five tips to start combating mould in your home today:
1. Open windows and doors so air can move around. But be cautious on high pollen or pollution days if these are triggers for you.
2. Try to avoid drying clothes indoors. If you have nowhere else to dry them, open a window if you can.
3. Use extractor fans in the kitchen and bathroom or open a window when cooking or after a shower.
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4. Close the door of the room you’re in if you’re cooking or showering to prevent condensation in other rooms
5. Try to keep your home at a good background temperature so it never gets too cold at least 15 degrees in all rooms.
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