Flood Facts

Downed Truck
Creative Commons License photo credit: Drew Coffman

What is a flood?

Flooding is the number one natural disaster worldwide.  A flood is defined as a rising, overwhelming volume of water which overflows onto normally dry land.

Extent of flooding…
Floods can either affect a widespread area or may involve a small localized area. While some locations are certainly more prone to flooding than others, floods can occur almost anywhere.  Throughout the world flooding takes place in locations ranging from urban areas to unpopulated areas, from coastal plains to mountainous regions, from farmlands to woodlands.

The weight & power of flood water…
The destructive power of flood waters can be devastating and how fast flood waters travel varies widely.  The weight of flooding water alone causes it to be a massive force and when that mass of water is in motion it becomes even more destructive.  Moving flood water can move vehicles, large boulders, and even houses.

Flowing water of a mere 6-inches deep is enough to knock a person over.  Moving water that is 2-feet deep will carry a car away.

How fast flood waters travel…
The speed at which water travels can be deceiving and many people have been caught off guard finding themselves in life threatening situations.  Different types of flooding and terrain determine the speed of the water flow. The fastest floodwaters are believed to be during flash flooding at approximately 67 mph.  River flooding typically flows at approximately 5 mph.

Fast moving water such as seen in a flash flood or a tsunami is a force that is equal to none.  News footage from the 2011 tsunami in Japan demonstrates the force and power of moving water as it swept away huge ships, houses and buildings.  Cars and trucks looked like toys floating along in the path of the tsunami.

 

Driving through flooded roads…
People often misjudge the depth of flooded areas and far too often falsely believe they could safely drive across a flooded intersection and instead find themselves trapped in a flooding vehicle and hoping for rescuers to reach them in time. More drownings occur in cars than anywhere else.

Drivers should be aware of the following facts when driving during flood  conditions.  Water levels of only six inches will reach the bottom of average passenger cars which can cause loss of control as well as possible stalling of the engine.  Vehicles with low ground clearance can be carried away in as little as one foot of moving flood water.  And most vehicles, including pick-up trucks and SUV’s, will be carried away in two feet of rushing water.

The woman in the following video thought she would be able to drive her car through standing water in a flooded road to get to her home nearby.  Little did she know that the water was about 3-feet deep and as her car began to float instead of drive, some rescuers waded out and pushed her floating car to safety.  Although in the video they are able to move the stalled car to safety, remember that many deaths have occured when attempting to move the stalled  vehicles.

If you become surrounded by flood waters in your car, the best thing to do is to abandon the car immediately and, as long as it’s safe to do so, head for higher ground.  Even if the water surrounding your car seems calm at the moment, flood conditions change very quickly and it’s all too common for vehicles in this situation to be swept away.  It’s also wise to keep an emergency escape tool in your car in the event you need to escape through your car’s window if your car is sinking or has become submerged.

Standing flood water…
Standing flood water has it’s own destructive power as it damages and weakens structures and after a period of time becomes stagnant becoming a breeding ground for disease.

Flood & Mud…
Flooding doesn’t just involve “water.”  When flooding occurs, in addition to the floodwaters there is “mud.”   And that mud also carries with it insects and bacteria and manages to find it’s way into every little crevice and opening that it travels over.  “Mudflow” occurs with flooding and is considered part of flooding.  Mud is one of the most difficult parts of the cleanup after a flood.

“Mudslides,” also referred to as landslides and debris flows, in the context of flooding, typically occur as a result of heavy rainfall in a short period of time or from rapid snowmelt.  The flow of a mudslide can travel quickly and can travel several miles.  Natural disasters such as an earthquake can also trigger mudslides and landslides.  Homeowners will want to keep in mind that although “mudslides” can occur as a result of heavy rain just like “mudflow,” mudslides are typically not covered in standard homeowners insurance.

It’s not just nature that causes floods…
Typically when discussing the topic of “flooding” the most common flooding being referred to is as a result of a natural disaster or weather related cause.  There are however, numerous causes of flooding, as well as numerous types of flooding.  Mankind is also responsible for his fair share of flooding that occurs from causes such as broken water mains, broken levees or dams, and urbanization.

Flood classification…
Flood classification of river flooding that rises above record levels, has been determined by experts through statistical data and labeled with the terminology:  50-year flood, 100-year flood, and 500-year flood.  However, this flood classification terminology is a bit misleading to many people as it implies that a certain size flood would only be expected to occur every 50, 100, or 500 years.  Since these flood classifications are based on statistical data, the actual meaning of a 100-year flood would be better understood if explained as a 1 out of 100 chance that a record level flood may occur in any given year.

Data collection and studies are conducted on a continuous basis causing flood classifications to be subject to change.  Dams and other urban changes, along with ever changing weather systems and natural conditions, may affect the streamflow of a river and in turn affect the frequency and intensity of flooding.

Research conducted by scientists as they gather data on flood statistics will often refer to floodplains.  A floodplain is the lowland along a river’s borders.  These lowlands are normally dry land that is subject to flooding.  Floodplains contain rich soil from sediment and flood deposits left from previous flooding.   Various government agencies map out these areas that have been affected by past flooding to determine the current floodplains and flood zones throughout the country.

Chances of flooding if you live in a flood zone…
For those who live in a designated flood zone, there is about a 50% chance of experiencing a flood during their lifetime.  Those who are located in a floodplain should be prepared with an evacuation plan in place in order to be able to evacuate the area as soon as possible when a flood is approaching.

Flooding is Part of the Cycle of Nature…
Flooding is a part of nature’s cycle.  Overflowing flood waters from river flooding, depositing nutrient rich silt along river banks and floodplains thus creating valuable farmland in the process.  For example, the sediment from flooding in the river valleys of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, the Tigris-Euphrates in the Middle East, and the Nile River valley in Egypt, are all areas where you can see the fertile farmlands created by this natural process over thousands of years.

 

 

Causes of Floods

What causes flooding?  Surprisingly there a number of types of events, circumstances, or occurrences that cause or contribute to flooding.  Listed below are some of the most common causes of floods:

 

Natural Causes of Flooding

Severe Weather
Severe weather is the primary cause of flooding.  Intense weather resulting from severe rainstorms and thunderstorms, monsoons, hurricanes, cyclones, and tropical depressions can cause water levels in lakes, rivers, and oceans to exceed the usual boundaries and flood surrounding areas.  These storms can also cause flash flooding as well.

River Flood
River flooding is one of the most common types of flooding and also one of the most devastating.  Flooding is part of the natural process of the cycle of a river.  Excessive or heavy rainstorms, rapid snow melt, and urbanization are factors which cause river water to rise above the river channel borders and into the surrounding floodplains.

Coastal Flood
Coastal flooding can be extremely dangerous and is caused by a number of conditions.  Tsunamis, oceanic tides, high winds and waves, offshore storms and storm surge drive ocean water inland beyond the water’s edge and into low lying areas of the coastline.

Flash Flood
Flash floods primarily occur within 6 hours of intense rainfall during a short period of time in combination with soil condition and ground cover.  Flash floods develop within several minutes to several hours of a rain event or other flash flood trigger.  The level of water can change almost instantly from one foot up to thirty feet and, of course, can happen without warning.

Burn areas in particular are more susceptible to flash flooding.  Rainfall cannot be absorbed after vegetation and soils have been charred and therefore runs off very quickly.  Water will run off soil that has been severely burned in the same way it would run off pavement and in essence acts as a water repellant.

Desert areas are also extremely susceptible to flash floods because the hard desert soil cannot absorb the amount of heavy rainfall that occurs during the monsoon season. It’s also important to know that a flash flood in the desert can happen without any rainfall occurring in the desert.  A mountain storm may trigger a flood in a wash, or roadway, miles away up in the mountains.  In a very short period of time that water will be racing down the washes to the desert floor.

Other causes of flash flooding are any event that creates a sudden release of water such as an ice or debris jam, a dam or levee break, an earthquake, and even a volcano.

The following video shows dramatic footage of a heroic rescue of two girls stranded in a taxi during a flash flood in northern Columbia.

 

Rapid Snow Melt & Melting Ice & Ice Jams
Melting ice and rapid snow melt causes the runoff to exceed a river’s capacity.  It’s not uncommon for floating ice to accumulate on a river creating an ice jam, or ice dam, causing flooding and flash flooding.  The following news video shows an example of this type of flood condition which occurred in three U.S. mid-west states that experienced widespread flooding as a result of ice jams.  One of the three states, North Dakota, had such widespread flooding that it was declared a Federal Disaster Area.

 

Hurricanes & Cyclones
Storm surge from hurricanes and cyclones can cause massive flooding as seen in the historic flooding of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

 

Earthquakes & Tsunamis
Flooding can be a secondary effect of an earthquake.  Tsunamis triggered by earthquakes can produce massive flooding.  Another secondary flood effect from an earthquake is when damage is caused to a dam resulting in a major flash flood.  Broken pipes and water mains after a quake are another cause of flooding.  Soil liquefaction is another result of an earthquake as seen in the video below:

 

Volcanoes
Volcano related flooding occurs when an eruption melts snow, ice, and glaciers triggering heavy flooding.

 

 

 

Man Made Causes of Flood

Urban Flood
In today’s modern world, cities and towns have been built in low lying floodplains which, ironically, contributes to an actual cause of flooding referred to as urban flooding.   Urbanization has created urban drainage, which is a result of the change in the natural flow of water.

Land that previously held vegetation is now covered with pavement and buildings.  Instead of evaporating, infiltrating into the ground, or following the natural course to rivers and streams it is now funneled through storm drains and sewage systems.  These man made water systems move the water at a much faster rate than Mother Nature would have, thus causing more flooding to happen and at a much faster rate.

Dam or Levee Break or Opened Floodgates
Flood gates must be opened under certain circumstances when it becomes necessary to divert flood waters away from other areas or if the integrity of the dam is in danger.  For example in the following video flood gates of the Louisiana Morganza Spillway for the first time in forty years. The National Guard was on hand to assist with evacuation of the affected area.  Although this did create flooding in the surrounding countryside it was an important part of the flood management during the historic flooding which occurred in 2011.

In the next video a key levee holding back the waters of the Mississippi river near Winfield, Missouri levee breaks during June of 2008.  This was the 36th levee to be breached in a 10 day period.  After the breach of the Pin Oak Levee near Winfield, officials went door to door evacuating residents.  The National Guard had been working for a week in attempts to save the levee.  This levee breach caused flooding of over 1300 acres of farmland and 100 homes.

If you’re wondering what the difference between a dam and a levee is, well you’re not alone.  A dam holds water back from a river in order to release it in a controlled manner and creates electricity in the process.  A levee, also known as a dike, is a man-made wall that prevents water from the ocean or a large river from flowing into a town or farmland that resides next to that body of water.

 

Major Flooding Caused By Plumbing Related Incidents

Another type of flooding is caused by burst pipes, frozen pipes, or a broken water main. Flooding incidents like these typically, although not always, involve a structure such as an individual household, apartment building, workplace, or school.

Broken Water Mains
Broken water mains can cause major flooding as well as a loss of water service.  Water mains are large pipelines in a city or main community which are used to distribute water to consumers from the purification center.  These pipelines vary widely in size; for example, recent water main breaks occurred in pipes that ranged from 10 inches up to 48 inches in diameter.

Water mains break as a result of degraded or old pipelines, accidental damage, or damage caused by a natural disaster.  Additionally, water must be pressurized to move through the pipelines but if the pressure is too high it can also cause the pipe to burst.

 

Backed Up Storm Sewer Systems
The powerful force of water after downpours caused rushing water to shoot up from a storm sewer system through a manhole as seen at the 15 second mark in the video below.  The gushing water was strong enough to lift a parked car off the street.

Broken Fire Hydrant
A damaged fire hydrant can spew water high into the air as seen in the video above.  The video above shows water shooting more than 100 feet high after a stolen car crashed into a fire hydrant in Los Angeles causing two homes to be evacuated.

 

 

Plumbing Flooding Involving Individual Structures

Burst Pipes / Frozen Pipes
A burst pipe can spew thousands of gallons of water into your home in a short amount of time.  In the CBS news video below we see two examples of damages from burst pipes and learn some preventive measures to take.

Millions of people deal with the costly problem of frozen pipes each year and the average damage runs about $11,000.  One homeowner in the video below had $25,000 damage from a very small crack in a frozen pipe after only two hours of leaking.

Preventive measures you can take when temperatures drop below 20 degrees are to turn the hot and cold water faucets on so it’s just dripping to avoid water pressure from building up; open the cabinet doors under sinks to allow the warm room air to circulate around the pipes to prevent freezing; don’t turn your thermostat below 55 degrees; and insulate your pipes, especially in attics and crawl spaces.

 

Broken Hose from a Washing Machine, Dishwasher, or Ice Maker
Burst washing machine hoses are the number one preventablele cause of water damage in a residential home. Avoid thousands of dollars by changing these hoses every three to five years.  Upgrade your washing machine hoses to stainless steel braided hoses for more as an extra measure to prevent water damage to your home and property.

 

Broken Water Heater
When a water heater fails the surrounding area of your home can be flooded with 40 to 100 gallons of water, often containing sediment and rust that has built up in the bottom of the water heater tank of a period of years.

 

Broken Lawn Sprinkler
In 10 minutes a broken sprinkler head can spew a hundred gallons of water into the air and can cause flooding of the immediate area creating water damage and waste if not tended to quickly.

 

Broken Fire Sprinkler System
A broken sprinkler in a fire sprinkler system can cause quite a bit of flooding as seen in this video.

 

Backed Up Sewer Line
A backed up sewer line can cause flooding from an overflowing toilet, bathtub, and shower.  This is often caused by tree roots growing through the sewer pipes.  Tree removal near sewer pipes is the most extreme measure of prevention; however, other methods are available such as a treatment applied to the inside of your pipes that prevent tree roots from growing in the pipes as shown below.

 

 

How To Prepare For A Flood

Modern technology now provides officials with the ability to accurately predict certain types of floods.  These predictions are able to include where a flood is expected to occur, when it is expected to arrive, and the severity of the approaching flood.

Determining your flood risk factor….
There are a few sources you can turn to to determine the likelihood of a flood occurring in your area.  Your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance agent will have records that indicate the locations of flood zones.  Other sources for flood zone maps and information are local officials, real estate agents, and local city records.  Another resource for flood zone information is the FEMA online flood map service (Federal Emergency Management Association).

Be familiar with flood terms…
Flood Watch – Flood watches are issued 12 to 36 hours before a possible flood event.
Flash Flood Watch – Flash floods are possible and can happen without warning.  Be prepared to move to higher ground.

Flood Warning – Flooding is taking place and/or will take place soon.   Evacuate immediately if requested to do so.

Flash Flood Warning – A flash flood is happening.  Seek higher ground immediately.

Flood preparedness in advance…
Flood preparedness should begin well in advance of a flood event and the first point of action should be creating a flood preparedness plan.

  • Determine if you’re in a flood zone
  • Find out if there is a dam or levee in your area that poses a hazard to you
  • Be sure you have flood insurance or renter’s insurance and consider purchasing mudslide insurance as well
  • Waterproof your basement
  • Make sure the furnace and water heater are elevated
  • Know your city evacuation plan and establish your own personal evacuation plan
  • Make a flood preparedness kit and store in an elevated location or in waterproof container.  Include items such as:
  • food
  • water first aid kit
  • can opener
  • cash and coins
  • personal hygiene items
  • other necessary items for your family’s needs
  • extra clothing and sturdy shoes
  • rain slicker and rain boots
  • umbrella
  • flashlight
  • battery powered radio or TV
  • Know where to tune in to obtain flood updates
  • Consider purchasing a battery powered NOAA Weather Radio with a tone alert feature

Pre-evacuation steps to take when flooding is imminent…

  • Once a flood is imminent secure your property and complete any last minute tasks needed to be done so that you will be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice.
  • Stay tuned in to flood and evacuation updates on your weather radio or local station
  • Take immediate action if you are in a high risk flash flood area and flash floods have been reported in your area
  • Move televisions, computers, and other important items to a higher level
  • Place sandbags in flood-prone areas of your property
  • Make sure your pets are safe
  • Secure or bring in outdoor patio furniture, BBQ’s, etc.
  • Place important documents and other valuables in a waterproof bag or container and move them to an area expected to be safe from flooding
  • Gather essential items you will need to take with you in the event an evacuation order is issued.  For example, cash and credit cards, your car keys, cell phone charger, prescriptions, contact numbers for emergency contacts, your bank, doctor’s offices, pharmacy, etc.  And don’t forget your insurance policy information.
  • Before evacuating your home turn off all utilities including natural gas, electricity, and the main water supply.  Important Note:  Before shutting off the electricity take precautions against accidental electrocution by checking your home to see if there is any standing water on the lower level.  When you turn off the electricity, turn it off from the main breaker fuse box.  If the power is already out in your neighborhood you should still shut off the electricity to your home at the fuse box.

 

 

Flood Evacuation

Certain types of flood disasters develop over an extended period of time providing opportunity for preparation and evacuation to take place.  If you live in a flood prone area it would be wise to make a flood evacuation plan in advance as mentioned under Flood Preparedness earlier on this page.  Knowing what needs to be done is half the battle.

Once An Evacuation Order Is Issued

Grab the essential items you previously prepared…
Take the important items you gathered together earlier in anticipation of evacuation.  See the list in the previous section under “Pre-Evacuation Steps.” (For example: prescriptions, contact numbers, etc.)

Leave immediately…
Leave immediately after an evacuation order has been issued.  There’s no guarantee how much time you have before floodwaters reach your location.  The longer you wait the greater the chances are of facing washed out roads or bridges.  Evacuation traffic will be extensive and slow moving so you’ll want to get as early a start as you can to ensure you are able to safely escape the approaching flood.

Follow evacuation routes…
Use the recommended evacuation routes provided by your local officials.  Taking a shortcut could prove to be dangerous because roads or bridges may be blocked or washed out.

 

 

During a Flood

What should you do if you can’t evacuate in time and you’re caught in a flood?  Drowning is the number one cause of flood deaths and knowing what to do in a crisis flooding situation when you must make a split second decision could your life and the lives of others.

The risk of walking through flowing water…
If you can avoid it don’t walk through flowing water. It only takes six inches of swiftly moving water to knock you off your feet.  However, if the situation is dire and you must walk through a flooded area, use a pole or a stick to make sure the ground or pavement has not washed away.  You also want to use your pole or stick to check that the ground is still solid even where the ground is not submerged under floodwaters.

Do not drive through flooded areas…
More people drown in their cars than anywhere else.  It only takes two feet of moving water for a car to be swept away.  Don’t ignore road barriers.  A road barrier is there for your protection and indicates dangerous road conditions.  It may mean a road or bridge has been washed out or has become structurally unsound.

Immediately abandon a vehicle trapped in floodwaters…
Abandon your vehicle immediately if floodwaters overtake your car and get to higher ground. At this point the best thing to do is to leave the car. Don’t try to re-start the car and don’t try to push the car out of the floodwaters because many deaths have occurred as a result of people attempting to move stalled vehicles.

 

 

Flood Insurance Tips

Before the rainy season or hurricane season arrives is the time for homeowners to check their flood insurance policies to make sure that they are covered for each type of damage that can occur from flooding situations.  Flood insurance only covers certain damages.

Too many homeowners have a false sense of security because they know they have “flood insurance” and feel they are covered for whatever damages may happen during a flood.  But “buyer beware” (“flood insurance buyer,” that is), for that is not the case with most standard flood insurance policies.  Renters should also purchase renter’s insurance to protect their possessions in the event of a flood.

In the following report by Art Fennell, we learn some key areas of problems homeowners run into regarding flood insurance.  Art interviews a representative from the Insurance Information Institute.  It is suggested that you check with your insurance agent to determine if your home is in a flood zone and even if it isn’t it is a wise decision for homeowners to carry flood insurance because all natural disasters can have some type of flooding so the risk is higher than you may think.

If you live in a flood zone the bank is supposed to require that you have flood insurance as a condition of the mortgage so most people in high risk areas generally know they need flood insurance.  However, if you are in a low flood risk zone that does not mean that it is a no risk zone.

When purchasing flood insurance it is not wise to purchase the bare minimum coverage in order to save money on the cost of the insurance premium.  A better strategy is to purchase a higher deductible and you will save what you would be paying for homeowner’s insurance.

One difficulty mentioned reported that homeowners in the Gulf Coast Region after Hurricane Katrina ran into problems as they filed flood damage claims.  They were faced with the daunting challenge of establishing whether the specific cause of  the flood damage was a result of wind damage or if you have flood damage from the rain and water.

Wind damage is covered under standard home and renter’s policies.  Flooding is defined by insurance companies as water that is coming from the ground up and into your house and is covered by “flood insurance.”   Insurance companies have been very technical about whether a storm surge is caused from wind pushing the water or if it is indeed flood damage.  To counter this issue simply make sure you keep your policy up to date with major alterations and additions, and also be sure that you have purchased flood insurance and you should be just fine.

In the United States, a flood insurance policy is actually provided by the National Flood Insurance Program, even though you purchase your flood insurance policy from the same agent who sells you regular homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policies.

Reputable insurance companies will be forthright with clients as to what is best for them and only sell their customers what they need.  Shop around and choose a company that has a good reputation, that’s financially strong, and also one that you have a strong personal interaction with.  To do this ask people you know for recommendations and obtain the name and contact information for a few companies and agents that they have had a good experience with.  Then you can compare prices and make the best decision from there.

 

 

FLOOD: WHAT TO DO AFTER

Once floodwaters begin to recede there is a new set of dangers and concerns to deal with.  After evacuation orders are lifted, displaced residents must assess the damages, contact their insurance company, and begin to rebuild their lives.

Flood recovery is a long process and it takes its toll both physically and emotionally.  The after effects of flooding is something that, unfortunately, is not something that can be dealt with quickly.   Be prepared to deal with the recovery process over an extended period of time.

The following tips cover the most common difficulties faced after major flooding has occurred.

Keep away from power lines…
Another major cause of death during flooding is electrocution.  Remember that electrical current travels through water.  Report downed power lines to your utility company or to the proper authority.

Keep an eye open for snakes and wild animals…
Be on the lookout for snakes and wild animals that have been flooded out of their homes.  They may be frightened and looking for shelter, perhaps in or around your home.  Carry a pole or a stick with you and use it to turn items over to scare away small creatures before they strike out at you first.

Outbreak of diseases…
After floodwaters have receded silt and mud covers the area.  Both water and landscape is frequently found to be contaminated with hazardous materials, for example: pesticides, debris, fuel, and untreated sewage.  Dangerous mold blooms can spread very quickly throughout water-soaked structures.  There will be a period of time before power and clean water can be restored to residents.  All of these factors together lead to deadly outbreaks of diseases like typhoid, hepatitis A, and cholera.

After contact with flood water…
Remaining floodwaters can be contaminated with gasoline, oil, and raw sewage.  If possible avoid floodwaters; however, if you do come in contact with flooded water, wash your hands with soap and clean water thoroughly for at least 20 seconds.  If clean water is not available you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Apply first aid immediately to any cuts and scrapes that have been in contact with floodwater.  Clean and disinfect the cut or scrape and cover the wound.

Watch out for slippery mud…
Following a flood the ground and floors are covered with all kinds of debris.  Watch out for things like nails, broken glass, etc.  Also keep an eye out for mud on walkways or stairs.  The mud is extremely slippery after flooding and the last thing anyone needs at this point is to have a fall.

Do not smoke or use open flames until it is confirmed no gas leaks…
Gas leaks are common after flooding so be sure you do not smoke, use candles, light a match, or use any open flame until after you have confirmed it is safe to do so.  First use a flashlight to inspect the gas line for any leaks or damage.  Then make sure the gas has been turned off and the area is completely aired out.

Keep camping stoves, etc. that produce fumes outdoors!!!
Carbon monoxide exhaust is a deadly killer.  Camping stoves, kerosene heaters, gas powered generators, charcoal BBQ grills, and any other fume producing machine must be used outdoors.  Charcoal fumes are exceptionally deadly so please exercise caution.

When to return home after evacuation…
Authorities will make announcements over the media to notify residents when the evacuation order has been lifted and it is safe to return home.

When returning home be watchful for damaged roads and bridges…
After major flooding roads may be compromised and may not hold up under the weight of vehicles.

Before entering your home make sure the structure is safe…
Before entering your home inspect it for any signs of damage making sure the structure is not in danger of collapsing.

Document flood damage to the structure and contents…
Before you begin the cleanup process, document damage for the insurance company by taking pictures and videos of damages to the house as well as of damaged content.

Check gas and utility lines…
Check your home for damaged gas lines, and for submerged electrical outlets, furnaces, appliances, and also damaged sewage systems.

Purify faucet water until safe…
If local authorities have not issued a notice that the water supplies are safe, purify water for drinking and cooking by boiling at a full boil for five minutes.

If you have a well or septic system…
According to FEMA if there’s a possibility that your private well has been contaminated by floodwaters do not use that well water for any purpose.  Nor is it advised to boil the well water because of the chemicals that may be in the water.

After floodwaters have receded the well needs to be shock-chlorinated with bleach and then tested by a professionally laboratory before using.

Air conditioners, heaters, ventilation systems & MOLD…
Do not turn on your air conditioner or heater until it has been inspected. Doing so may blow mold throughout your house.  It is advisable to have a professional inspector check your system.  Water damaged filters must be thrown away.

Flood clean up…

  • It is advisable to wear rubber gloves and rubber boots when you’re working in and around contaminated floodwaters (and that means all floodwater). Sanitize or discard the rubber boots and gloves when you’re finished.  When cleaning indoors use a disposable dust mask, or an even better choice would be a mask with changeable filters to protect against mold spores and other contaminants.
  • Pump out flooded areas in your home.  To prevent structural damage, flooded water in your basement needs to be pumped out over a 3 day period, pumping out approximately 1/3 of the flood water each day.
  • Wash surfaces of floors and walls that were submerged in floodwaters using a bleach solution of 2 capfuls of non-fragrance household bleach for each gallon of water.
  • Throw away carpeting, mattresses, upholstered furniture. If you prefer these items can be cleaned and disinfected by a professional cleaner.
  • Dispose of all food items that were in contact with the floodwaters. The only exceptions to this are cans and bottles with no heat damage, no water damage, no dents, no bulges, and no rust.  These items can be disinfected with a bleach solution.  Remove and discard the labels first because the paper traps bacteria.  After being disinfected using a permanent marker the contents can be written on the containers.
  • Also dispose of household dishes that are porous.  Items made of plastic, wood, and paper are all porous materials.  Examples of porous plastic items are: plastic baby bottles, pacifiers, plastic storage containers, and plastic utensils.  Wooden kitchen items which are porous are: wooden spoons and other wooden utensils, wooden cutting boards, and wooden bowls.  Discard these types of items as they cannot be thoroughly sanitized.
  • Disinfect yards that have been contaminated by flooded sewage systems by using a liberal application of lime.  Do not allow children or pets on these treated areas until you can no longer see the lime.

The American Red Cross advises residents to be cautious of individuals driving through flooded neighborhoods offering help and repair services.  Be sure to exercise caution and check references!  The Red Cross organization provides flood victims with assistance after flooding occurs, offering things like a cleanup kit containing a mop, broom, bucket and cleaning supplies.  Contact your local Red Cross to find out more about vouchers for daily essentials like new clothing, food, medications, and other emergency needs.
Hazardous items after flooding…

  • Car batteries that have been submerged in floodwaters can be extremely hazardous if the battery still holds an electrical charge.  Be careful too of any spilled acid from the car battery as well.
  • Floodwaters cause paint cans to deteriorate extremely quickly and while they may appear to be undamaged, when moved they may rupture quite easily.
  • Contact authorities if you have sighted a stranded container such as a cylinder, drum, or tank, as these items are potentially dangerous.
  • Highly explosive hazards for which you need to contact the police or fire department for safe removal are:

 

  • Propane tanks of any kind (whether from a house or a grill)
  • Tanks of welding gases
  • Gas cans
  • Fuel tanks

After the flood should you contact your insurance agent or FEMA or the NFIP?
When you have confirmed that your home, apartment, or business has suffered damage, unless instructed otherwise you will want to call your insurance agent as soon as possible to file a claim.  Your agent will take care of it from there and give you instructions of what else you may need to do and will walk you through the process.  Your insurance agent will then follow through with FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) or with the NFIP (the National Flood Insurance Plan) to settle your claim.

For more information regarding all aspects of flooding FEMA and the NFIP are excellent resources.