As part of our series on preparing for disasters, we thought we’d highlight flooding: how to prepare, how to survive, and how to clean up afterwards.
First, have a plan before there’s a problem. If the family isn’t all together, have one person out of the area whom everyone can call to let them know you’re safe. (this is very useful for earthquakes as well). Secondly, if your county has it, sign up for emergency alerts.
Learn the safest route from your home to high ground. Teach all family members how and when to turn off gas, electricity and water lines. Check to see if you have insurance that covers flooding. If not, find out how to get flood insurance. Keep copies of your insurance policies, documents, and other valuables in a safe-deposit box preferably located in a bank so it will be protected.
During flooding season, have your sandbags ready. Also update your emergency supplies: portable radio, emergency cooking equipment, flashlights, fresh batteries, non-perishable food and drinking water, essential medicines and a first-aid kit.
Also, from King County in Washington State, here are some tips to minimize damage from floods:
- Store valuables at higher elevations (second story, if possible).
- Store household chemicals above flood levels.
- Ensure that underground storage tanks are fully sealed and secure.
- Close storm shutters and sandbag doorways.
- Have check valves installed in building sewer traps to prevent flood waters from backing up in sewer drains.
- Move vehicles and RVs to higher ground.
During the Flood
Keep a battery-powered radio tuned to a local station and listen in for when they announce if there’s a flood watch or a flood warning.
When a flood WATCH is issued, move your valuables to higher floors of your home if you have them. If not, place them as high up as you can. Then fill your car’s gas tank, in case an evacuation notice is issued. Have your bags packed and ready to go. Keep your cellphones on the chargers so that they’re fully loaded if you have to go.
When a flood WARNING is issued, listen to local radio and TV stations for information and advice. If you are told to evacuate, do so as soon as possible. Try to stay out of water as you don’t know how deep it is. Always follow the instructions authorities give. If your car stalls, call 911 and then get out of the car and get to higher ground. Do not walk or wade in flooded areas if you can help it as the current could drag you under. Use a stick to test how deep still water is, and if there is a current.
When you evacuate, make certain you bring your emergency supplies with you.
If you are caught in your home or office by rapidly rising waters, call 911 for help. Get to the highest possible ground taking with you warm clothing, food and water, cell phone and battery powered radio.
And stay on alert even if the flood waters seem to be receding as there could be additional floods.
After the Flood
If you were evacuated, wait until you have official word that you can go back to your home. Keep the roads clear for emergency workers, and don’t drive around looking at the damage.
If your usual route is barricaded off, it means there’s still danger. Find another way to get home. Things may look fine, but sometimes the road can be completely washed away.
If you’re walking, be very aware of live wires and water. Stay far away from them, and call 911 so they can turn off power to that line. Additionally, try to stay out of flood waters as they may be contaminated with sewage, oil, gasoline, deceased animals, etc.
Before you go back into a building, you’ll need to follow a few steps first.
- Check for structural damage that could cause the building to collapse.
- Be cautious of potential gas leaks, electrical shorts and live wires. Use flashlights, rather than lanterns or candles (in case of gas leaks).
- Have a professional check your heating system, electrical panel, outlets and appliances for safety before using.
- Call the gas company to have them turn the gas back on.
If you have damage, thoroughly document your losses by photographing damages. Then contact your insurance company for flood loss claims.
Clean and disinfect everything that got wet.
The American Red Cross offers a book Repairing Your Flooded Home that will help guide you through getting back into your home after a flood.
If you hire cleanup or repair contractors, thoroughly check references to be sure they are qualified to do the job. Don’t accept help right away from those who drive through neighborhoods offering clean up or repair services. Ask them for references and written estimates.
Hopefully you didn’t have any flood damage. The only thing left to do is to remove and empty sandbags. Do not dump sand into a river, ocean or on its banks. You could store it for future use, or contact your county to see if you can return the sand and bags.