A few inches of water can cause tens of thousands of dollars in property damage, so imagine what can happen if a flash flood with walls of water hits your home. Once the waters recede, the long process of cleanup and rebuilding begins — an ordeal that can last for months.

The first step is getting back into your house to assess the damage. This is when it pays to be careful — many of the 150 flood-related deaths that occur each year happen after the flood waters recede and people are electrocuted by wet appliances or killed in other accidents.

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Check out What to Do After a Flood to find out how to safely enter your house, as well as how to protect yourself while cleaning up. The Red Cross offers a handy list of what you’ll need while cleaning, since floodwaters are notoriously filthy.

“When we have flooding, there’s the potential for people to get sick,” says Jim Judge, a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council. “Anytime you come in contact with floodwaters, you potentially come in contact with bacteria and sewage.”

Once you’ve gotten over your initial shock at the wreckage the flood left behind, your first priority is to get someone to pump and drain water from inside the house, shovel out any mud and get air circulating to dry out the areas that were flooded. If you have an old home with plaster walls, you’re in luck: Plaster doesn’t mold, so you may be able to let it dry out and simply replace the damaged wiring. Wet drywall means you’ll have to gut your place.

The National Flood Insurance Program also recommends keeping the power off until an electrician has inspected your system for safety, and boiling water for drinking and food preparation until authorities say the tap water is safe to drink.

Rebuilding and rebirth

Once the initial clean-up is finished, here’s how to put your home (and your life) back together.

Contact your insurance company to file a claim. Be aware that standard homeowners’ policies do not include flood insurance, so if you don’t have that, your policy may not cover much of the damage.

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Take photos of all the damage to your house and personal property. Your insurance company will need this, but even if you don’t have flood insurance, you will need it if you apply for a federal loan to fix up your house. Save any damaged personal property and make an exhaustive list of damaged or lost items. Include their value and purchase date along with receipts (if you have them). If you have to throw away any damaged items, keep photographs of them.

File a homeowner’s insurance claim for damages. You need to do this even if you don’t have flood insurance because to get federal assistance, the government first needs to know what (if anything) your insurance policy will cover. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, cannot pay for anything that you insurance will take care of.

Fill out a Proof of Loss form. This legal document includes a sworn statement supporting your claim for compensation from your insurance company. (You can get a copy from your adjuster.)

Contact FEMA about a low-interest loan. If the President issues a Major Disaster Declaration for your area, you may be eligible for a low-interest federally subsidized disaster loan to repair your home or business, along with other assistance such as temporary housing and day-to-day living expenses.

Once your region has been classified as a major disaster area, you can register for federal disaster assistance online at DisasterAssistance.gov or call 800-621-3362. You can also send a text to m.fema.gov.

You can apply to borrow up to $200,000 to repair your home (your primary residence, not a second home). Although you can’t make upgrades unless the local building codes require them, you can make improvements that help protect against future property damage from a similar disaster (which may make you eligible for a 20 percent loan increase).

You can also borrow up to $40,000 to repair or replace personal property such as cars or clothing.

Save your insurance paperwork. FEMA can also help you find temporary housing if your coverage has run out, but as always, you’ll need to provide documentation.

Look into other sources of help. If you are unlucky enough not to have flood insurance and to live in a flooded area that the President did not declare a major disaster, don’t despair: You may still be eligible for a low-interest loan from the Small Business Administration (SBA) to fix up your house. First contact the Red Cross for your immediate needs for food, clothing and housing.

If you apply for a SBA loan but are turned down, FEMA will refer you to “Other Needs Assistance,” which will help pay for your personal property, vehicle losses, transportation, moving and storage costs and dental and medical bills.

Save all the receipts from the contractors rebuilding your home. You’ll need them for taxes and to send to FEMA if you receive a low-interest loan to help you restore your property.

The American Red Cross notes that you need to take care of yourself, too, after a flood, which can take a toll on people as well as property. If your region is declared a disaster area, you may be eligible for free counseling and other help for post-traumatic stress. Call FEMA for details.

Related: Why Your Home Might Be Dangerously Underinsured

Daniel S. Levine is an award-winning journalist who heads the Levine Media Group and hosts The Bio Report and RARECast podcasts. He was an editor of The Burrill Report and worked for the Oakland Tribune, Adweek, the San Francisco Business Times and other publications.