wikiHow to Cope Following a Flood

Eight Methods:Personal crisis helpGiving your home first aidGet organizedDry out your homeRestore the utilitiesClean upRebuild and flood proof your housePrepare for the next flood

After a flood, your home and its contents may look beyond hope, but many of your belongings can be restored. If you do things right, your flooded home can be cleaned up, dried out, rebuilt, and reoccupied sooner than you think. This article provides a series of actions for you to follow in the event of a flood impacting your home.

Method 1
Personal crisis help

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    Keep the family together. Before anything else, ensure that everyone is safe and in the same place or at least somewhere you know they're safe. In bad times, togetherness is more important than ever for providing mutual support for all family members.
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    Deal with any health issues impacting your family. It's important to deal with health impacts such as protecting against waterborne diseases, stress, and fatigue.
    • Take care of emotional health. Discuss what is happening, talk together and share your anxieties. Let others talk to you to help release tension. Allow space for releasing emotions: crying is a natural response to a disaster and it’s also a great way to release pent-up emotions. Watch for signs of stress. You've just been through a disaster and the recovery period can be long, hard, and chaotic.
    • Ensure that everyone is getting enough sleep. Fatigue can bring on other health problems as well as reducing energy levels. Rest often.
    • Eat well. You are more likely to suffer from stress and health problems when you are weak and nutritionally impoverished.
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    Stay healthy. Prevent the flood waters from causing further damage to your family's health by keeping good hygiene as much as possible.
    • Wash your hands with soap and water, thoroughly and often.
    • Confirm that the water is clean and safe. Don’t drink it or wash dishes until you’re sure. Typically, flood waters mix with septic tanks and city sewer systems, so it is best to wait for civil authorities to declare the water safe to drink.
    • Be safe around poisons. Many of the products you'll use to clean, disinfect, and repair your home are poisons. Keep them out of the reach of children and wear appropriate covering to protect yourself.
    • Take care not to hurt yourself. Injuries, especially back injuries, are a common side effect of cleaning up after a flood. Be conscious that infections are everywhere.
    • Report health hazards. Tell the Health Department about animal carcasses, rats, dangerous chemicals, and similar hazards on your property.
    • Infants, pregnant women, and people with health problems should avoid the flooded area until cleanup is complete. When you work in an area that has been flooded, you'll be exposed to dangerous chemicals and germs that you are not used to and can make you very sick.
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    Take care of your children's specific needs. Watch your children closely. You can expect to see them display fear or symptoms of stress.
    • Make an effort to re-establish normal family routines as quickly as possible, including schooling.
    • Listen to what children say. Encourage them to talk or otherwise express their feelings.
    • Explain the disaster factually. Knowing the facts can help children deal better with the disaster.
    • Reassure children. Show them through words and actions that life will return to normal.
    • Be understanding. Remember, they are also going through a rough time too. Be aware too that some children have heightened sensitivities to the emotions of adults around them and will react accordingly.
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    Set a manageable schedule to start rebuilding. Getting active as soon as possible can help restore a sense of coping and well-being. Make a list and do jobs one at a time. Establish a schedule to clean up and rebuild. See the later sections of this article for more details.
    • As part of your plans, be sure to include flood-proofing. People who are prepared ahead of time are better able to deal with disasters. Getting ready for the next flood can give you a sense of control over the future.
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    Seek help. Special outreach programs and crisis counseling are often set up following a disaster because so many people need help to cope with their situation. You might be able to get shelter, food, supplies, debriefing, etc., through such services.
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    Be patient. Above all, try to be patient with your family, your neighbors, the local, state, and federal authorities, and volunteer agency personnel.

Method 2
Giving your home first aid

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    Check your home before entering it again. Once it's safe to go back in, you'll be able to start protecting your home and contents from further damage. Things to check before entering include:
    • If there is standing water next to the outside walls of your home, don’t go in. You won’t be able to tell if the building is safe or structurally sound.
    • Walk carefully around the outside of your home and check for loose power lines and gas leaks. If you find downed lines or leaks, call your utility company and don't enter until they've checked.
    • Check the foundation for cracks or other damage. Examine porch roofs and overhangs to be sure they still have all their supports. If any supports or portions of the foundation wall are missing or the ground has washed away, the floor is not safe.
    • If you have any doubts about safety, contact a contractor before going in. Proceed very carefully.
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    Turn off the electricity. Even if the power company has turned off electricity to the area, you must still make certain your home’s power supply is disconnected. You don’t want the power company to turn it on without warning while you’re working on it.
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    Turn off the gas. Gas appliances and pipes may have moved or broken during the flood, creating a gas leak. If you suspect a leak or smell gas, leave your home immediately and call the gas company from a neighbor’s home or emergency shelter. Leave the door open and, if the gas meter is outside, turn off the gas.
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    Go inside carefully. If the door sticks and has to be forced open, it has probably swollen. If it only sticks at the bottom, it can be forced open. If it sticks at the top, your ceiling may be ready to fall.
    • Once inside do not smoke or use candles, gas lanterns, or other open flames.
    • Air out your home completely—there may be explosive gas. This also ensures that moisture is given a chance to start drying out. Open doors and windows if the weather permits.
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    Rescue the most valuable items. Find and protect the irreplaceable valuables such as money, jewelry, insurance papers, photographs, and family heirlooms.
    • Wash the mud off, so the items can dry.
    • Resist the urge to stop and clean everything you pick up. You need to get to work on protecting your home, assessing all the damages, and planning your recovery.
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    Protect your home from further damage. Your flood insurance policy may cover some of the cost of protecting your home from further damage or moving the contents to a safe place. Read your policy before you need it and ask your agent what expenses are covered by your policy.
    • Patch holes. Cover holes in the roof, walls, or windows with boards, tarps, or plastic sheeting. It may not look pretty, but you need to do this so further rain won’t cause any more water damage.
    • Repair sagging floors or roof sections. Use 4 x 4’s or other heavy lumber to brace weak areas. If you’re uncertain how to shore up floor or ceiling joists, call a contractor.
    • Remove debris. Tree limbs or other trash that may have landed on or floated into the home should be cleared away.
    • Check for broken or leaking water pipes. If you find any, cut off the water supply by turning off the valve at your water meter. If the water pipes aren't leaking, use your tap water for hosing and cleaning. But don't drink or cook with tap water until it has been declared safe!
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    Drain your basement carefully. If your basement is flooded, don’t be in too big of a hurry to pump it out. The forces in the water soaked ground outside could make the basement walls buckle or even cave in.
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    Hose the house and its contents. Most of the health hazards you'll face come from the mud, mold, and algae left behind by flood waters. It's very important to get rid of the mud as soon as possible. This is a lot easier if it's done before the mud dries out.

Method 3
Get organized

Some things are not worth repairing and some things may be too complicated or expensive for you to do by yourself. A recovery plan can take these things into account and help you make the most of your time and money.

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    Call your insurance agent. The sooner you can talk to your agent, the sooner your claim will be filed and an adjuster will be assigned to review your damage. Your agent may also be able to give you advice about where to get help with cleanup and repairs.
    • You may have as many as three separate insurance policies: homeowner’s, flood, and wind and hail. Call your flood insurance agent to report your damage as soon as possible after the flood. If you are unable to contact the local agent, in the United States you can call the National Flood Insurance Program at 1- 800-638-6620.
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    Start listing the damage. List the damage and take pictures or videotapes as you clean up so you'll have a complete and thorough record. If you have flood insurance, you'll need to file a "Proof of Loss" form within 60 days of the flood. Completing your own inventory form will make this form easier to complete and will also help the adjuster determine the costs to repair the damage to your home and belongings.
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    Check for structural damage. Is there evidence of broken or cracked basement or foundation walls? Are there broken pilings, shifted stairs, or slanted floors or walls? Any of these things could mean that the foundation, floors, or walls will have to be totally rebuilt.
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    Plan your recovery. Get organized with a recovery plan. A recovery plan is simply a list of jobs that need to be done. Planning can help you save time and money. To develop a recovery plan, follow these steps:
    • Make sure it is safe to work in your home.
    • Decide what repair work you can and can’t do.
    • Decide if you need financial assistance.
    • Check with your mortgage holder.
    • Think before you use credit cards.
    • Keep talking openly with your family about what's happening and where things are headed.
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    Check on the availability of financial assistance. Voluntary agencies, businesses, insurance, and government disaster programs can help you through recovery. Private voluntary agencies such as the American (or other country) Red Cross, Salvation Army, non-profit organizations, and church or charity groups are usually on the scene during or right after a flood. These groups provide for immediate needs such as clothing, groceries, shelter, medical aid, and counseling.
    • Your local TV, radio and newspapers will usually publicize how businesses are contributing to the recovery process. Some businesses may offer reduced prices, but be wary of “flood sales” that are selling flood damaged items.
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    Seek government emergency funding where relevant. If the flooding was widespread and caused a lot of damage, your community might be eligible for state, provincial, or federal aid. If the flood is severe enough for your area to be declared a disaster area by the federal or national government, funds will often be freed up to assist victims. Each country has different processes in place, so look online for the relevant government department, or contact your local representative.
    • In the United States, the Federal Emergency Management Agency may open “tele-registration”, which provides a toll-free number for you to call to request assistance. Or, it may open one or more Disaster Application Centers. This program may provide a safe place to live until repairs to damaged homes are completed. Home and business owners, farmers, and others with real or personal property losses may be eligible for low interest loans. This program may provide funds for necessary expenses and serious needs. If a federal disaster declaration was made, you might quality to file an amended tax return for the past year and get a partial refund for your uninsured casualty losses.
    • Note that many programs now encourage “flood proofing,” that is, modifying the structure to help it withstand damage from the next flood.
    • A variety of programs give advice on recovering from a disaster. These include help with unemployment, food stamps, income taxes, insurance claims, legal issues, veterans benefits, and crisis counseling.

Method 4
Dry out your home

Flood waters damage materials, leave mud, silt and unknown contaminants, and promote the growth of mildew. You need to dry your home to reduce these hazards and the damage they cause.

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    Reduce the humidity in your home. Everything will dry more quickly and clean more easily if you can reduce the humidity in the home. If the humidity outside is lower than indoors, and if the weather permits, open all the doors and windows.
    • Open closet and cabinet doors, and remove drawers to allow air circulation.
    • Use fans to help move the air and dry out your home. Do not use central air conditioning or the furnace blower if the ducts were under water. If there is a way to run the fan in reverse, run it venting to the outside to dry out the ducts.
    • Run dehumidifiers to draw out moisture. Dehumidifiers and window air conditioners will reduce the humidity, especially in closed up areas.
    • Desiccants (materials that absorb moisture) are very useful in drying closets or other enclosed areas where air cannot move through.
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    Sort contents and discard debris. You have three types of contents that should go to three different places:
    • Move items you want to save to a safe, dry place, such as the second story, or outside.
    • Put things you don’t want to save outside to dry until the adjuster comes to confirm your losses.
    • Get rid of food and anything else that could spoil or go bad immediately.
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    Get the water out of the ceilings and walls next. How you drain and dry your ceilings and walls depends on what they are made of.
    • Gypsum wallboard becomes very soft when wet. It will be fragile, and will lose any shape or strength when it dries. Gypsum, drywall, and sheetrock will have to be ripped out.
    • Plaster will survive a flood better than wallboard. It should not have to be replaced but it will take a very long time to dry.
    • There are three main types of insulation and each reacts differently to flood waters. Styrofoam survives best; it may only need to be hosed off. Fiberglass batts should be discarded if they're muddy. Cellulose (loose or blown-in treated paper) insulation will hold water for a long time. It can also lose its anti-fungal and fire retardant abilities. Therefore, flooded cellulose insulation should be replaced.
    • If wood is allowed to dry naturally, it will generally regain its original shape, with some exceptions such as laminated wood.
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    Drain the ceilings and walls. Check for sagging ceilings. Drain them carefully; start by making a hole near the edge of the sag a and work in toward the center.
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    Remove water trapped within your walls. To check for water, take off the baseboard. Stick an awl or knife into the wall about 2 inches (5cm) above the floor (just above the 2 X 4 wood sill plate). If water drips out, cut or drill a hole large enough to allow water to drain freely. Depending on the spacing between studs in your walls, make a hole every 16" (40.6cm) or every 24" (60.9cm). That wall will have to be ripped out.

Method 5
Restore the utilities

The rest of your work will be much easier if you have heat, electricity, clean water, and sewage disposal. However, it may take some time for a repair professional to come. Therefore, do all the cleaning you can do while you wait for one or more of these utility systems to be restored.

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    Have a professional restore the gas. If the gas has been turned off at the main valve serving your home, you need to have a professional restore gas service to your home, relight pilot lights, and do a final check of the system.
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    Make sure your main oil valve is turned off. Check your oil pump. If it got wet, have the pump professionally checked and cleaned. After you've turned the electricity back on, open the main valve and turn the pump on. Look carefully for any signs of leaking oil; if you see any, call a professional.
    • Propane, LP gas, and butane systems are kept in pressurized tanks, so there is no electric pump to turn on, but there are check valves and emergency shut-off valves. Check the tanks for signs of movement or floating. Then follow the instructions above for gas systems.
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    Check with your building or electrical inspector to see how much work you can do on your wiring. Many local codes require that a licensed electrician do the work, or that a municipal inspector check the system before you can turn the power back on.
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    Wait for the water to be restored. Public water suppliers usually provide water soon after the flood. If you're unsure of your water supply, only use it to hose your home or for sanitation purposes (such as flushing the toilet).
    • Private wells should be pumped until the water is clear. You can decide whether water is clear enough to hose your home and do other cleaning work. Check with the local health department for instructions before you drink or cook with your well water.
    • Check your water heater. If flood waters got into the gas burner, electrical parts, or insulation, it should be replaced. If you want to save it, have it cleaned and restarted by a professional.
    • Public sewers should work soon after a flood, but mud and debris might clog them. Flush the toilet before you use it. If it's clogged, check with your local sewer department. Septic systems won't work until the ground water level is below the distribution lines. So be careful about flushing the toilet and pouring things down the drain; they may not have anywhere to go.

Method 6
Clean up

The walls, floors, closets, shelves, contents and any other flooded parts of your home should be thoroughly washed and disinfected.

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    Get hold of cleaning equipment. The Red Cross or similar organizations will often distribute cleanup kits after a disaster. These contain many useful items such as a broom, mop, bucket, and cleaning supplies. In most cases, household cleaning products will do the job if you use them correctly. Check the label on the products to see how much to use. After cleaning a room or item, go over it again with a disinfectant to kill the germs and smell left by the flood waters.
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    Tackle one room at a time. A two bucket approach is most efficient: use one bucket for rinse water and the other for the cleaner. Rinse out your sponge, mop, or cleaning cloth in the rinse bucket.
    • Start cleaning a wall at the bottom or where the worst damage was. If you have removed the wallboard or plaster, wash the studs and sills and disinfect them.
    • If you taped your windows before the storm, clean the tape off as soon as possible. The sun will bake the adhesive into the glass. Use orange or eucalyptus oil to help remove the sticky leftovers.
    • Don’t try to force open swollen wooden doors and drawers. Take off the back of the piece of furniture to let the air circulate. You'll probably be able to open the drawers after they dry.
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    Take care with appliances. There’s an unexpected danger of shock with some electrical appliances such as TV sets and radios. Certain internal parts store electricity even when the appliance is unplugged. Check the back for a warning label.
    • Even if your washing machine did not get wet, do not use it until you know that the water is safe enough to drink and that your sewer line works.
    • Throw out soft plastic and porous items that probably absorbed whatever the flood waters carried in. Like the washing machine, the dishwasher should also be used only after you know your water is safe to drink and your sewer line works.
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    Throw any food out that has been touched by flood waters. Even food in tin cans should be discarded if the cans got wet during the flood because there is no way to be absolutely certain the food inside is safe. Do not keep food in bottles or jars with bottle caps or screw on lids—they do not keep out flood waters.
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    Try to restore valuables. Valuable papers such as books, photographs, and stamp collections can be restored with a great deal of effort. They can be rinsed and frozen (in a frost-free freezer or commercial meat locker) until you have time to work on them.
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    Keep the house clean. As you get rid of things from your home, don’t turn your yard into a dump. Food and garbage must be hauled away as soon as possible.
    • Mosquitoes can carry many diseases, and a flood can create ideal conditions for them to breed. Drain or remove standing water that can become a breeding ground. Dump water out of barrels, old tires, and cans. Check that your gutters are clean and can drain.
    • Ditches and drains also need to be cleaned so they can carry storm water away from your home.
    • Lawns usually survive being underwater for up to four days. Salt water should be hosed off the lawn and shrubs.

Method 7
Rebuild and flood proof your house

Take your time to rebuild correctly and make improvements that will protect your building from damage by the next flood.

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    Flood proof your house. Flood proofing means to remodel or rebuild using materials and methods that will prevent or minimize damage from future floods. There are five types of flood proofing:
    • Most buildings can be raised so that the lowest floor is above the possible flood level.
    • Moving a building out of the flood-prone area is the surest way to protect it from flood damage.
    • Flood walls, berms, and levees all work to keep flood waters from reaching your house.
    • Dry floodproofing means sealing a building to keep flood waters out.
    • Wet floodproofing means modifying a building so that flood waters will cause only minimal damage to the building and contents.
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    Get the appropriate permits. Once you’ve determined the repairs and flood proofing measures you are going to take, local codes generally require that you get a building permit. Before you make repairs or alterations to your home or property, make sure your plans are reviewed and approved by your building department.
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    Give your house plenty of time to dry. Many problems result from rebuilding too quickly after a flood, before everything dries.
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    Move the main breaker or fuse box and the utility meters above the flood protection level for your home. If you're going to replace a flooded furnace, water heater, or air conditioner, install the new one on a higher floor. If your new air conditioner or heat pump will be outside, install it on a platform above the flood protection level.
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    Repair the walls. Wash and disinfect the studs and sills if the wallboard and insulation had to be removed. If you are going to rebuild the walls, remember that metal studs and sills are not damaged by water as much as wooden ones.
    • Think horizontal rather than vertical. Install the wallboard panels sideways so they are only four feet high. If the next flood is less than four feet deep, you only have to replace half the wall.
    • Do not paint until the surface is completely dry. If the surface still contains moisture, the paint will peel. Things look dry on the surface long before they are dry on the inside, and this can lead to costly mistakes.
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    Repair the floors. Some floors are made with particle board or plywood, materials that fall apart when wet for long. Do not lay new flooring or carpet until the sub flooring is completely dry. Floor joists and some wood floors will regain their shapes if allowed to dry naturally.
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    Hire a contractor to help you rebuild. This is especially valuable to enable you to handle the difficult jobs such as foundation repair and electrical work. If you've been satisfied with work done by licensed local contractors, try them first.

Method 8
Prepare for the next flood

Protect yourself from the next flood with flood insurance, a flood response plan, and community flood protection programs.

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    Develop a flood response plan. Preparing a flood response plan will help you think through all the details that demand attention as the flood waters approach. This is a project for the whole family. As you write down the plan, make sure everyone understands it. Having the plan in writing will help you remember what to do when everyone is in a hurry and excited because a flood is coming.
    • Develop a flood response plan based on the flood protection level, local warning procedures, and the time you will have to respond. In flash flood areas, you may only have enough time to evacuate. But if you live in areas in the path of a hurricane or cyclone or on large rivers, you may have 12-24 hours of warning time.
    • If you live in a mountainous area, or if your flooding comes from a small stream or ditch, your home may be subject to flash flooding. Flash floods can occur before the local emergency managers have time to issue a warning. In these cases, listen for warnings. For example, in the United States, you can listen to the National Weather Service, which may issue a flash flood watch advising people that conditions are favorable for a flash flood. You may not be notified of a flash flood warning before flooding actually begins.
    • If you live near the coast, you'll be asked to evacuate when a hurricane or cyclone threatens your community. It's important to evacuate when you're asked to.
    • Prepare your flood response plan to take into account all of the time that you'll need to protect your home before you evacuate. You'll need time to board your windows and to clear your yard so your belongings won't blow or float away.
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    Develop a checklist of what to do in the event of a flood. Your flood response plan should be a checklist of steps to take before flood waters reach your home. The following are examples of things to include:
    • Listen to local radio or TV stations for flood information and evacuation instructions.
    • Read safety precautions at the top of this document.
    • Get into the habit of keeping a full tank of gas in your car, especially at times of the year when flooding can be expected in your area.
    • Pack the car with supplies you need while away from home.
    • Put supplies needed for clean up and recovery in a safe place. If your flood protection level is over your top floor, you may have to store supplies at a friend’s home away from the flood-prone area or take them with you in your car.
    • Take pets to a kennel or friend’s place on high ground. Health codes do not allow animals in public shelters.
    • If you have enough warning time, move your contents above the flood protection level or to another safe place. In the United States, some of the cost of doing this can be covered under an NFIP flood insurance policy.
    • Install flood shields and other flood proofing measures you may have prepared.
    • In hurricane or cyclone prone areas, protect against wind damage. Install hurricane shutters or plywood covers over windows and doors, take down TV antennas, and securely tie down boats, garbage cans, and everything else left outdoors.
    • Tape plastic around the cap to your well. This will prevent most, but not all, flood water from entering your water supply. You will still have to disinfect your water.
    • Turn off the electricity, gas, oil, and water.
    • Lock your home.
    • Follow your designated evacuation route to a place of shelter.


  • The following people can provide advice or assistance on flood recovery. Some of these people may be able to speak to neighborhood groups or help in developing a community flood protection program.
    • The Red Cross in your country and local emergency managers conduct sessions to increase public awareness and to educate the community in ways to prevent, prepare for, and cope with emergencies. Local emergency managers also sponsor public meetings on damage education, safety, response planning, how to handle stress, and other flood-related topics.
    • In the USA, many Cooperative Extension Service offices have home economists and food and farm experts. Check your telephone book under the county name. For example, if you live in Pittsburg County, check under “Pittsburg County Cooperative Extension Service”.
    • Questions on cleaning or disinfecting of specific materials can be answered by manufacturers of cleaning products. Check the product labels for toll free telephone numbers.
    • Your property insurance agent is the best source of information on flood insurance. He or she can give you forms and instructions for making your own property inventory.
    • Local building and housing departments, and hardware stores are excellent sources of technical advice. Their staff have many years of experience in dealing with local construction conditions. Home maintenance and repair books that are found in libraries or bookstores are invaluable references for the do-it-yourselfer.
    • Private home inspectors can give you itemized lists and cost estimates of needed repairs. Look in the yellow pages under Building Inspection Services. Building trades associations and the Better Business Bureau (or equivalents in your country) can provide guidance on dealing with contractors.
    • Some local building officials and contractors are familiar with flood proofing techniques. In the United States, several states and communities have published flood proofing or “retrofitting” manuals. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have several publications that provide excellent summaries of various flood proofing measures. Some of these publications may be applicable outside the USA too.
  • If you live near the coast, your home is likely to suffer damage from the high winds and flood waters of a hurricane. Boarding up all your windows and doors are the best way to protect them from breaking and letting in the heavy rains that a coastal storm brings.


  • Watch for animals, especially snakes.
  • Do not walk through flowing water.
  • Do not drink any water you are not sure is safe.
  • Look before you step.
  • Clean everything that got wet.
  • Stay away from power lines and electrical wires.
  • Take good care of yourself.
  • Be alert for gas leaks.
  • Turn off your electricity when you return home.
  • Do not drive through a flooded area.

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