Returning to Flooded Homes

What to do when you return to flooded homes

South Carolina Hit By Historic Rain And Flooding
Joe Raedle / Getty Images

When floodwaters suddenly inundate your home without warning, the damage can be catastrophic. You're suddenly forced from your home because of rising water and many times, everything must be left behind. Of course, you can't wait to get back into your home following the disaster. As soon as the water stops rising and it begins to fall, you figure that it is now safe to go in and start evaluating the damage. Not so fast! There are plenty of hidden dangers that have to be thought out before entering your home. Don't become a statistic by coming back home too soon!

Check the Exterior of Your Home

Do a visual walk around your home to see if there are any downed power lines or electrical connections that may be in contact with the water. Smell the air around you. Is there a smell of gas in the air? Often times there may be a gas leak. If you find either of these problems, call the proper utility company to correct the problem. If water is still around the house, check to see if the outside walls have cracked or giving way because of the water pressure being exerted on them. If there's water still around, don't enter the home, There's always a chance that the walls could give way and the house could collapse around you. Be cautious around porches and overhangs. These areas may have weakened during a flood and could give way or collapse.

Electrical and Gas Connections

When you arrive at your home, disconnecting the electrical and gas supplies are a good start. By shutting off the gas supply, you lessen the chance of fire and explosion. By disconnecting the electrical supply, you lessen the chance of electrocution. Even if the power is out or the power supply has been disconnected from the power pole by the utility company, your electrical fuse or breaker panel's main fuse or breaker may still be on. In this case, at any time during the day, the utility company could come back and turn the power on to your home. You may not be aware that they've turned the power back on and your panel is now live, subjecting you to potential shock hazards.

If the only way to disconnect the gas and power is inside the home and there's water where you have to shut them off, don't enter the home to do so until you can safely enter the home and the water has been removed. Remember, water and electricity don't mix. Every year people die from electrocution in flood-related accidents. Many are from entering a home after the floodwaters have receded.

Dress Appropriately Before Entering

Before you enter a home that has been flooded, be sure to have the proper clothing, footwear, and safety items that may be needed.

  1. Boots
    Wear waterproof rubber boots or waders with hard soles. If you're walking in muddy, water-coated floors and basements, there are likely sharp objects that you could step on.
  2. A 95 Micron Dust Mask
    Wear a mask over your mouth and nose to protect your lungs from pollutants and disease. A 95-micron mask filters out even the mold particles.
  3. Gloves
    Wear gloves, preferably rubber gloves, to handle anything in flooded areas. Materials may be a health hazard due to sewage, chemicals, and oil in the water.
  4. Hard Hats and Protective Clothing
    Loose and crumbling ceilings, falling debris, and trapped water are potential hazards to your head and body when entering a flooded home. By wearing water-resistant clothing and a hard hat, you'll protect your vital parts from danger.

Other Things You'll Need

  1. First Aid Kits
    Have a first aid kit available if an accident occurs or to treat cuts. If you do get a cut or open wound, seek medical attention. It's a good practice to get a tetanus shot.
  2. A Flashlight
    Have a flashlight with you for dark areas of the home.
  3. A Dry Wooden Stick
    Carry a stick in order to turn off breakers, unplug cords, or ward off any animals that may have entered your home.
  4. Cleaning Supplies
    Have a broom, mop, disinfectant cleaners, sprayers, and water hoses in order to start the cleanup.
  5. Trash Bags, Trash Cans, and Dumpsters
    Following a flood, there will be plenty of things to throw away. Have plenty of trash bags to put things in, a trash can to hold them and a dumpster to throw the bags in to.

After Flood Waters Recede

  1. Pump out Basements and Crawl Spaces
    After floodwaters have receded and there's no water pressure on the walls, you can slowly pump the water out of your home's basement or crawl space. Be careful not to pump it out too fast. Remember, the ground is still saturated with water and removing the internal resistant pressure on the walls may cause them to give way. Lower the water level over a period of a few days, reducing it a few feet at a time.
  2. Spray Down the House
    With the power off, carefully spray the house down with water to remove a majority of the mud and muck from your home. Use disinfectant cleaners to wash walls and floors down.
  3. Clean out Sump Pits
    Sump pump pits often fill up with mud and debris. In order for the sump pump to perform effectively, these pits must be cleaned up from time to time, especially following a flood. 

Dry out the House

It is important to open up the bottom of flooded walls and remove all wet material from them. Turn on fans and dehumidifiers as soon as possible to dry the home. Deadly mold can form quickly in warm and moist areas in the home. Get wet carpeting and padding out of the home as soon as possible. Get garbage, affected clothing, etc. out of the home and clear the floor space in rooms and closets. Open the windows to let the house breath. By getting the home dried out quickly, you'll be on your way to cleaning and repairing it. 

Cleaning and Sterilizing the Home

By using a pump sprayer and bleach water, you can effectively clean your home and make it sterile. The recommended mixture of water to bleach is ten to one. The idea is that the water will soak into the wood and any mold will come out to the surface of the wood. That's where the bleach will then kill the mold.