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Tips before, during and after a flood
Being prepared for a flooding event can help minimize damage and save money even if your home isn't located in a high flood risk area.
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) offers flood insurance nationwide. Along with providing your assets with insurance protection, the NFIP recommends taking these steps to minimize losses and ensure your safety.
Before a flood
- Have a written inventory of your household possessions. While an electronic copy may be convenient, be sure to have a hardcopy in a safe place in case your computer is damaged or destroyed.
- Use a water-resistant safe or cabinet to store valuable documents and irreplaceable items, such as photos and videos.
- Ensure your insurance policies are up-to-date. In addition to homeowners insurance, you will need a separate flood insurance policy to cover water damages. Confirm that you have enough coverage to make repairs or rebuild your house if needed.
- Move valuable items and furniture upstairs if you have a second story.
- Install a sump pump in your basement. Make sure you have a generator or a submersible portable sump pump that can be used in case the power goes out. If you have a city water supply, water pressure sump pumps that do not require electricity can be installed as a back-up.
- Remove leaves, dirt and debris from your downspouts and gutters.
- Adjust the height of electrical components in your home. Ask a licensed electrician about moving circuit breakers, switches, sockets and wiring to at least 12 inches above the projected flood elevation on your property.
- Increase the height of furnaces and water heaters if possible. Use masonry blocks or concrete to bring them at least 12 inches above your property's estimated flood elevation.
- Move your washer and dryer if they are in the basement. Masonry blocks or pressure treated lumber can be used to elevate these appliances at least 12 inches above the flood elevation. For appliances that can't be moved, use a polyethylene film to wrap them, and secure the film with a rope or other cord.
- Keep a supply of bottled water in an elevated place where it will not get contaminated by flood waters.
- Maintain a supply of ice at home and purchase a few large coolers.
- Keep a "disaster supply kit" handy. This is a packed bag that can easily be transported if you are ordered to evacuate. The kit should contain items such as batteries, cell phone charger and spare battery, blankets, cash or credit cards, extra clothes, shoes, flashlight, work gloves, duct tape, first aid supplies and basic tools. Also, have a three day supply of food, water and prescription medication ready to go at a moment's notice. Finally, even if you're not a camping enthusiast, it is a good idea to have a tent on hand to take with you in case of an evacuation.
- Keep a spare, portable charger for your phone. If you do not have a cell phone, consider buying an inexpensive pre-paid one for emergencies.
- Make sure that you have an adequate supply of food that will not need to be refrigerated or cooked to be consumed.
- Other supplies to buy include a battery-powered radio and extra flashlights and batteries. Buy a manual can opener as well.
- Create an emergency plan for your family. Children should know how to dial 911 and other emergency numbers should be posted on or near your phone. Designate one out-of-state friend or family member to be a "family contact." In the event of separation, this person will be your family's point of contact. Finally, have a flood-evacuation plan and practice it routinely, especially with children.
- Make arrangements for your pets. You can get stickers, usually available at pet stores, to place on your windows and notify emergency personnel that you have pets in the house. Keep a list of animal rescue organizations in your area. If you must evacuate, you will need to find a friend, family member or organization to temporarily care for your pets because animals are not allowed in emergency shelters.
During a flood
- Once a flood is imminent, fill empty jugs as well as your bathtubs and sinks with clean water in case the water supply becomes contaminated.
- Follow news reports on the radio or television for storm updates.
- If instructed by local or state authorities, close your main gas valve and turn off the main power switch for utilities.
- Evacuate immediately if the order is given.
- If you are unable to evacuate before water begins to rise, move to the second floor. Go to the attic or roof if necessary.
- Flood water can contain raw sewage and chemical waste that may spread disease. Avoid contact with the water, but if you do touch it, wash your hands thoroughly with soap or hand sanitizer.
- In addition to the potential for disease, as little as 6 inches of moving water is enough to knock you over. Avoid walking through even seemingly shallow floodwaters.
- Do not drive on a flooded road. Turn around and find an alternate route. It only takes 2 feet of water to float and carry away a car.
- Remember that water conducts electricity. Stay away from electrical wires or power lines that have fallen to avoid the risk of electrocution.
- There may be snakes or other animals in the water. Watch for pets or wildlife that may feel threatened by the flood and bite if startled.
After a flood
- Call the agent for your flood insurance policy if your home has sustained damage. If you have been evacuated, be sure your agent has an emergency contact number where you can be reached.
- Upon reentering your home, take photographs of the damage. In addition, save any damaged personal items. This documentation will streamline the insurance claims process.
- Look for structural damage to the house. Do not enter a building that may be at risk of collapse.
- There may be natural gas trapped inside your house. Do not light cigarettes, matches or other open flames until you are sure it is safe. Leave quickly if you smell gas or hear hissing, and call your utility company immediately from a neighbor's house.
- Do not turn on your power until an electrician has inspected your system and confirmed it is safe to operate.
- Check for damage to sewer and water lines before using toilets or faucets.
- Any food--including canned goods --that has come in contact with the floodwater should be thrown away.
- Because floodwater can harbor disease, protect yourself with goggles, rubber boots and gloves when cleaning up.
- Until your water supply is declared safe by authorities, boil water for drinking and food preparation for at least one minute.
- Anything that cannot be washed and disinfected should be thrown away, including toys and stuffed animals that have been submerged in floodwater.
- Avoid mildew growth by cleaning clothes as quickly as possible. Use 1 cup of liquid chlorine bleach in your wash water to disinfect clothing.
- If you have a large quantity of clothing, or your water system has not yet been declared safe, head to a Laundromat. Wear rubber gloves when handling items that came in contact with flood water.
- Set up fans, dehumidifiers and air conditioners to help dry your house more quickly; however, do not use space heaters.
- If you must rebuild, adhere to local building codes and ordinances. Flood-resistant building techniques and materials can help you protect your property from future flood damage.
Sources: FEMA, the National Flood Insurance Program and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention