Floods are the most common and widespread of all natural disasters except fire. In lowlands, coastal communities and other poorly drained areas, water from heavy localized rainfall and runoff may accumulate to depths of several feet. Whether the result of a tidal storm surge, hurricane, heavy thunderstorm or other natural disaster, the effects of flooding are most likely to cause the disruption of vital services such as water service, sewage, power, and gas service. Floods also cause damage to roadways, bridges, flood control structures (dikes, weirs), buildings, port and harbor facilities, railroad facilities, utilities and communications systems. Additional natural/environmental emergencies may also result because of flooding, e.g., landslides.
Keep in mind the following characteristics about floods
- Flood waters can be extremely dangerous. The force of six inches of swiftly moving water can knock people off their feet. The best protection during a flood is to leave the area and go to shelter on higher ground.
- Flash flood waters move at very fast speeds and can roll boulders, tear out trees, destroy buildings, and obliterate bridges. Walls of water can reach heights of 10 to 20 feet and generally are accompanied by a deadly cargo of debris. The best response to any signs of flash flooding is to move immediately to higher ground. Flash floods usually result from intense storms dropping large amounts of rain within a brief period of time. Flash floods occur with little or no warning and can reach full peak in only a matter of minutes.
- Cars can easily be swept away in just 2 feet of moving water. If flood waters rise around a car, abandon it immediately and climb to higher ground. Refer to the following guidelines on how to prepare, survive, and deal with the aftermath of a flood.
Refer to the following guidelines on how to prepare, survive, and deal with the aftermath of a flood.
PREPARING FOR A FLOOD
☐ Know the safest evacuation route from you house or business to high, safe ground.
☐ Prepare and maintain an emergency survival kit.
☐ If you reside or work in areas that are frequently flooded, keep sandbags, plywood, plastic sheeting, and lumber to protect property.
☐ Install check valves in building sewer traps to prevent floodwater from backing up in sewer drains.
☐ Identify the location of gas valves, circuit breakers, fire extinguishers, and water valves. Know how to operate them in the event of an emergency.
☐ Buy flood insurance. Homeowner’s policies do not cover flood damage.
☐ Keep your insurance policies and a list of personal property in a safe place, such as a safety deposit box. Know the name and location of the insurance agents who issued your policies.
☐ If your business will be critically affected by a power failure, arrange for auxiliary electrical supplies.
FLOOD WARNING CHECKLIST
☐ Stay tuned to a local radio station, the NOAA Weather Radio, or TV station and follow all emergency instructions.
☐ If time permits, there are a number of precautionary steps that can be taken:
- Turn off all utilities at the main switch and close the main gas valve if evacuation appears necessary. Do not touch any electrical equipment unless it is in a dry area, or you are standing on a piece of dry wood wearing rubber soled shoes or boots and rubber gloves.
- Move valuable papers, furs, jewelry, clothing, and other contents to upper floors or higher elevations.
- Fill bathtubs, sinks, and jugs with clean water in case regular supplies are contaminated.
- Board up windows or protect them with storm shutters or tape to prevent flying glass.
- Bring outdoor possessions inside or tie them down securely. This includes lawn furniture, garbage cans, tools, signs, and other moveable objects that might be swept away or hurled about.
- Open basement windows to equalize water pressure on the foundations and walls.
☐ Fuel your automobile since gasoline pumps will not be working if the electricity is cut off.
☐ If it is safe to evacuate by car, leave early before access is cut off by flood water, and take your emergency survival kit with you.
☐ If you’re caught in a house or building by suddenly rising waters, move to the second floor and, if necessary, to the roof. Take warm clothing, a flashlight, and a portable radio with you. Then wait for help. Do not try to swim to safety; rescue teams will be looking for you.
☐ When outside, try to avoid flooded areas, and don’t attempt to wade through floodwater that is moving rapidly or is more than knee deep high.
☐ Do not drive where water covers the road. Parts of the road may already be washed out or the water can be deeper than it appears.
☐ If your car stalls in a flooded area, abandon it as soon as possible and move to higher ground. Floodwaters can rise rapidly and sweep a car away.
AFTER THE FLOOD
☐ If your home or business has suffered flood damage, immediately call the insurance agent or broker who services your flood insurance policy. The agent will then submit a loss form to the National Flood Insurance Program. An adjuster will be assigned to inspect your property as soon as possible.
☐ Prior to entering a building, check for structural damage. Make sure it is not in danger of collapsing. If there is standing water next to the outside wall of the building, do not go in.
☐ Check for hazardous materials spills.
☐ Turn off any outside gas lines at the meter or tank, and let the house air for several minutes by opening doors to help remove foul odors or escaping gas. It will also help dry out the building.
☐ Upon entering the building, do not use open flame as a source of light since gas may still be trapped inside; a battery-operated flashlight is ideal.
☐ Look for electrical shorts or live wires before making certain that the main power switch is turned off. Do not turn on any lights or appliances until an electrician has checked the system for short circuits.
☐ Cover broken windows and holes in the roof or walls to prevent further weather damage. The expense of these temporary repairs is usually covered under your flood insurance policy (subject to the policy deductible). Therefore, it is important to save receipts.
☐ Proceed with immediate cleanup measures to prevent any health hazards. Perishable items which pose a health problem should be listed and photographed before discarding. Throw out fresh food and previously opened medicines that have come in contact with floodwater.
☐ Water for drinking and food preparation should be boiled vigorously for ten minutes (until the public water system has been declared safe).
☐ Refrigerators, sofas, and other hard goods should be hosed off and kept for the adjuster’s inspection. A good deodorizer when cleaning major kitchen appliances is to add one teaspoon of baking soda to a quart of water. Any partially damaged items should be dried and aired; the adjuster will make recommendations as to their repair or disposal.
☐ Take pictures of the damage done to your building and contents.
☐ Take all wooden furniture outdoors, but keep it out of direct sunlight to prevent warping. A garage or carport is a good place for drying. Remove drawers and other moving parts as soon as possible, but do not pry open swollen drawers (or doors) from the front. Instead, remove the backing and push the drawers out.
☐ Shovel out mud while it is still moist to give walls and floors a chance to dry.
☐ Special attention should be paid to cleaning out heating and plumbing systems.
☐ Mildew can be removed from dry wood with a solution of 4 to 6 teaspoons trisodium phosphate, one cup liquid chlorine bleach, and 1 gallon water.
☐ Clean metal at once then wipe with a oil soaked cloth. A light coat of oil will prevent iron from rusting. Scour all utensils, and, if necessary, use fine steel wool on unpolished surfaces. Aluminum may be brightened by scrubbing with a solution of vinegar, cream of tartar, and hot water.
☐ Quickly separate all laundry items to avoid running colors. Clothing or household fabrics should be allowed to dry (slowly, away from direct heat) before brushing off loose dirt. If you cannot get to a professional cleaner, rinse the items in lukewarm water to remove lodged soil. Then wash in lukewarm, mild detergent; rinse and dry in sunlight.
☐ Flooded basements should be drained and cleaned as soon as possible. Remember, however, that structural damage can occur by pumping out the water too quickly.
☐ Do not visit disaster areas; you may hamper rescue or other emergency operations.
☐ Be aware of exhaustion. Don’t try to do too much at once. Set priorities and pace yourself. Get enough rest.
☐ Drink plenty of clean water. Eat well. Wear sturdy work boots and gloves.
☐ Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and clean water often when working in debris.