Now that water levels in New Brunswick are dropping and homes are starting to dry out, the clock is ticking to clean flood-affected properties of debris, bacteria and to prevent the growth of mould.

Standing in his backyard, Grand Bay-Westfield resident Andrew O’Neill surveys all the flood debris that has washed up from the St. John River.

“There’s a whole bunch of big trees, and logs, and all kinds of reeds that came in. There’s all kinds of stuff…there’s a set of stairs down there,” explains O’Neill.

But it’s not so much the outside of his home that has him concerned. O’Neill estimates that between 24 and 28 inches of water flooded into his basement.

Now that the floodwaters have receded, the threat of mould and mildew growth is on the rise.

“It smells really bad in there,” explains O’Neill. “Not as bad as it could be obviously, but you can smell the mildew in the air, and you can smell it upstairs as soon as you come into the house. So it’ll be good to get it cleaned up now sooner rather than later.”

Residents that had been evacuated are now returning home, and being advised to first check with local authorities to make sure that it’s safe to do so.

“It could be a matter of any contaminated water around your property,” explains Bill Lawlor, the New Brunswick director of Canadian Red Cross. “If you had any issues with electricity, in terms of your home being de-energized as a result of the flood, we just want to make sure people take the safest precautions possible.”

As of Sunday, 1367 New Brunswickers had registered for assistance with the Canadian Red Cross, and 373 were living in emergency accommodations.

Lawlor says it’s still too early to say when those residents will be able to get back into their homes.

“Families themselves, in every case, haven’t had the opportunity to actually see their home and do that visual inspection, that assessment to see whether the water actually made it to their property,” says Lawlor.

Andrew O’Neill and his wife have been out of their home for about 11 days, and are staying in a hotel. He says he doesn’t expect to be able to return to their home for at least 10 more days.

“It’ll be five to seven days before they go through and clean it and decontaminate it and all that stuff,” explains O’Neill. “And then we’ve got to get a new pump, and pressure tank and hot water tank. And then we can move back in.”

While water levels have receded, a return to normal is still a ways off for many New Brunswickers, as cleanup from the record breaking flood continues.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Laura Lyall.