Floods are among the most frequent and costly natural disasters.
Conditions that cause floods include heavy or steady rain for several hours or days that saturates the ground. Flash floods occur suddenly due to rapidly rising water along a stream or low-lying area.
Many times flooding occurs when you least expect it. This is the kind of emergency where your bug-out-bag should be
packed with a minimum of 72 hours of supplies and ready to put in your car for evacuation. Make sure you pack some cleanup clothes, hat, sturdy shoes and your camera to document damage when you return.
Listen to your area radio and television stations and a NOAA Radio for possible evacuation warnings. When a warning for your area is issued, go to higher ground and stay there. It’s a good idea to plan this route ahead of time. If you come upon a flooded road while you are traveling, turn around and go another way. Traveling at night, it is hard to recognize where the road is or isn’t. In a recent flood in Pensacola, we had a road wash away leaving a 25-ft. drop!
Return home only after officials have declared the area safe. Before entering your home check for downed power lines, damaged gas lines, foundation cracks or other structural damage. As you enter, check ceilings for sagging or other conditions that might lead to a collapse. If you smell or hear hissing gas, leave immediately and telephone the fire department. Don’t take children into hazardous areas.
The first thing to do is contact your insurance agent to file a claim. Make sure you have the name of your insurance company, your policy number and a telephone or email address where you can be reached at all times. An adjuster should get back to you within a few days. Meanwhile, take photographs of any floodwater in your home and begin the process of saving personal property.
Make a list of damaged or lost items. These can be added to your home inventory, which already contains the purchase date and value. Take photographs of any items that need to be discarded. Do not turn on electricity until an electrician has deemed your property safe. Mold is the enemy. Remove all wet items immediately. During cleanup, you should wear protective clothing, including rubber gloves and boots.
If you have a basement full or nearly full of water, pump out 2 or 3 feet of water each day. If you drain it too quickly, the pressure outside the walls will be greater than the pressure inside the walls, resulting in cracks or collapse.
For general cleanup, follow a three-step process.
- Remove mud – shovel out as much as possible, then use a garden hose to wash away mud on hard surfaces. This should include metal heating ducts. Remember to disconnect the furnace first. Discard any porous materials since they are contaminated.
- Clean – scrub surfaces with hot water and a heavy-duty detergent. Clean from the bottom to the top.
- Disinfect – Use a solution of ¼ cup chlorine bleach per gallon of water or a product that is labeled as a disinfectant to kill germs. Don’t mix cleaning products as some combinations give off toxic fumes. Your house should be thoroughly cleaned and dry before you move back in.
Flood soaked dry-wall must be removed. Plaster and paneling can perhaps be saved if thoroughly dried. Air should be circulated in the wall cavities to dry studs and sills. What about insulation? Styrofoam can be hosed off; fiberglass bats should be thrown out if muddy, but can be reused if thoroughly dried. Loose or blown-in cellulose or fiberglass must be replaced.
Mold will grow in only a couple of days if the temperature and humidity are high. Bedding, rugs and clothing should be taken outside to dry as soon as possible. Open your windows and use fans to ventilate the house with outdoor air or use an air conditioner or dehumidifier. Mold can be removed from hard surfaces but not from porous surfaces like paper, drywall and carpet padding. These items must be removed and discarded. Wear a two-strap (n-95 rated or better) protective mask to prevent breathing mold spores.
To remove mold, first vacuum or brush off items outdoors to prevent spreading spores inside. Vacuum with a HEPA filtered vacuum to remove loose mold and spores. Then scrub using a stiff brush with a non-ammonia detergent. Structural wood may need to be sanded to remove all the mold growth. Then disinfect with a bleach solution diluted 1 cup per gallon of water. The surface must remain wet for 15 minutes to successfully disinfect. Then rinse with clean water and rapidly dry the surfaces. Provide adequate ventilation during the disinfecting and wear rubber gloves.
Discard any carpet or rugs if they were wet or damp for more than a couple of days. If sewage-contaminated water covered your carpets, discard them for health reasons. To clean carpets, drape them outdoors and wash down with a hose. Use a disinfecting carpet cleaner on soiled spots. Dry carpets and floors thoroughly before putting them back in place.
If you have hardwood floors, remove a board every few feet to reduce buckling. Clean and dry the wood before trying to repair it. If you have wooden subflooring, the floor covering must be removed to allow air to dry the subflooring thoroughly. This may take months.
Wooden furniture worth saving should be dried indoors to prevent warping by the sun. It can be wiped down with turpentine to remove white spots that may develop on damp wood. Wipe dry and polish with wax or furniture polish. Throw away water soaked mattresses and pillows. Wash bedding in a bleach solution as recommended on the label. Treat clothing and other washable textiles with stain removal products before washing.
Flooding contaminates or damages everything it touches. For more details on cleaning and what to save or discard, see Flood Recovery and Cleanup.
Billie Nicholson, Editor
Updated, September 2017