What To Do After a Flood
Once the floodwaters recede, follow these tips for safely returning to your home and dealing with the damage
Your home’s been flooded. Now what?
Of course you’re worried about your worldly belongings being under water. But safety should be your first concern. Follow these steps to getting back in your house and starting the cleanup process.
Avoid moving or standing water. If the floodwaters haven’t yet receded, do not attempt to walk through moving water. Moving water only 6 inches deep can literally sweep you off your feet, according to the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA). Also keep your feet out of standing water. It may be electrically charged from downed power lines. You also don’t know what debris, such as broken bottles, you might be stepping in. Stay on firm, dry ground.
Don’t try to drive on barricaded roads. Even if the floodwaters have receded, they may have weakened the road and it could collapse, according to FEMA.
Don’t rush back into your home. Wait for the local authorities to say it’s safe to do so. The area may be at risk for more flooding. Continue to listen to the National Weather Service if you have access to a radio. Don’t enter any building that’s surrounded by water, FEMA advises. If there’s any obvious structural damage to your home or loose power lines near it, don’t go in. Keep in mind that there may be structural damage you can’t see, particularly to the foundation.
According to FloodSmart.gov, the official site of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), you should contact the appropriate professionals if you suspect damage to water, gas, electric or sewer lines.
Wear protective clothing if possible, including rubber gloves and boots, advises the Red Cross. Floodwater may contain oil, gasoline or raw sewage. Wash your hands with soap and clean (disinfected) water after touching it.
Turn off the electricity. Once you’re back in the house, if you have access to the main breaker or fuse box, turn off all electricity, along with other utilities, even if the power in your community is off. This way, according to FEMA, you can make the decision of when to turn it back on based on when your home dries out. If you have to enter standing water to access the main power switch, don’t. Instead, call an electrician to turn it off, advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Have an electrician check the house’s electrical system before turning the power on again, says CDC.
When contractors are called to help with the
damage assessment, it is important they understand what electrical products can
or cannot be used after being submerged in contaminated flood waters.
The guidance document provides advice on the safe handling of electrical equipment that has been exposed to water and outlines items that require complete replacement or that can be reconditioned by a trained professional. Equipment covered includes electrical distribution equipment, motor circuits, power equipment, transformers, wire, cable and flexible cords, wiring devices, GFCIs and surge protectors, lighting fixtures and ballasts, motors, and electronic products.
Call your insurance company. It will help to take pictures of flooded areas of your home, both inside the house and around the property. You’ll also want to make a list of damaged or lost items and place it with the home inventory you (hopefully) made before the flood. FloodSmart.gov advises saving any damaged personal property. If you need to throw it out, take photos first.
Air out the house. If the house has been closed up for several days, open doors and windows to let the house air out for at least 30 minutes before you spend time inside, says CDC.
Do not drink the tap water unless local health authorities say it’s safe to do so. You may be told to boil it before drinking or rely on bottled water. Don’t bathe or wash dishes in it, either.
Save important papers and photos. Remove all photographs, damaged books and heirlooms from the house and place them away from harm. Carefully remove photos from frames and lay them, along with damp papers, on an absorbent material to dry. If a photo is stuck to the glass, leave it attached and dry it glass-side down, recommends the Colorado State University Extension. It also suggests rinsing any muddy photos or papers (not books) in a bucket of cold, clean water before drying. If there’s no time for that now and you still have power, put damp books and papers in individual sealed plastic bags in the freezer to prevent mildew.
Inspect your food supply. Throw away any food that came in contact with floodwaters as it may contain raw sewage and other harmful chemicals. That includes canned goods, water bottles and plastic utensils.
If you’ve lost power and the temperature in the refrigerator is less than 40 degrees F for more than two hours, throw out everything (except unopened bottled water). Once the roads are open and safe to drive on, buy about 50 pounds of dry ice to keep the freezer as cold as possible for the next two days, advises the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Get the wet stuff out. To prevent mold, you’ll need to remove all wet furnishings, bedding, mattresses, carpeting and other damp items.
Be prepared to clean and disinfect. You can pretty much assume that floodwater is not clean, nor is the mud it leaves behind when it’s gone. FEMA recommends cleaning and disinfecting everything that got wet. The Red Cross can provide you with a cleanup kit including a mop, broom, bucket and cleaning supplies. FloodSmart.gov recommends cleaning wet items with a pine-oil cleanser and bleach, then letting them dry completely.
Don’t turn on the power or plug in any appliances until an electrician tells you it’s safe, advises UL. Electrical wiring and equipment that’s gotten wet can pose a serious fire hazard. Do not turn on damaged electrical appliances. Electrical parts can pose an electric shock hazard or overheat and cause a fire. Use portable ground-fault circuit-interrupter (GFCI) protective devices to help prevent electrocutions and electrical shock injuries.
There will be plenty more to do in the coming days and weeks, and you may need the help of contractors. (Check references, and be wary of contractors roaming flooded neighborhoods offering to help with repairs, says FEMA.) Your flood insurance company should be able to advise you. Among other things, you’ll want to have your furnace checked for damage if the floodwaters reached the tank, according to NFIP. And per the CDC, you’ll want to have your heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) system checked and cleaned by a maintenance or service professional who is experienced in mold clean-up before you turn it on.
Coping with a natural disaster can cause an incredible amount of emotional distress, but take it one step at a time. If you need assistance, contact the Red Cross.