Flood waters rising in Commonfort Guanajuato Mexico (C) Daniel FriedmanFlooded Building First Aid - First Steps to Protect the Building
Flood Damage Repair Guide FEMA/ARC expanded Step 2

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Flood damage to buildings, Step 2: first aid for your building: action & repair priorities:

If your building has been flooded, this article series gives an easy to understand guide for flood damage assessment, setting priorities of action, protecting the building from further damage, and then cleaning up a wet or flooded basement or building and restoring its electricity, heat, plumbing to working condition, then restoring and rebuilding the damaged building areas and flood proofing it against a future problem.

We describe disaster repair safety, and we provide special information about avoiding or minimizing mold damage. Adapted and expanded from Repairing your Flooded Home, American Red Cross & FEMA & from additional expert sources.[1] NOTICE: neither the ARC nor FEMA have yet approved the additions & expansions we have made to the original document.

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STEP 2 Response to a Hurricane, Earthquake, Flood or Disaster: Give Your Home First Aid

Article Contents

Watch out: see BUILDING ENTRY for FLOOD DAMAGE ASSESSMENT for an explanation of how to enter a building safetly in order to inspect its condition or begin dryout and repairs

See FLOOD RESPONSE CHECKLIST for a list of items to address in priority order .

For limited-scope disasters such as a building that was flooded by a burst pipe, removing wet contents and key building cavity covering demolition (drywall removal) permit drying out the building effectivel. Taking these steps, properly within 24-48 hours is important to avoid costly mold damage, especially in warm weather. See MOLD PREVENTION after FLOODING. In the case of larger-scale disasters such steps may not be possible as the building may be unsafe to enter and electrical power may not be available to run drying equipment.

Safety Advice About Using Portable Generators

Portable generators can be a big help if you are without power. But remember:

Most of the information in this section assumes that the person doing the work has experience in construction and electrical repair.

If you do not have experience in construction and electrical repair, do not try to do this work yourself. Hire a qualified contractor or an electrician. It is still a good idea to read the information in this book so you will have a better understanding of the jobs ahead, no matter who does them.

Even if you have some experience with construction and electrical work, do not attempt any job if you feel uncertain about the right thing to do or you wonder if the job is beyond your skill or physical strength. Read the instructions in this book all the way through before you start. Gather your tools and supplies, and make sure you have enough help.

There is plenty of work to go around after a flood. Do only those jobs you can do well and without injuring yourself. If you cannot afford to get professional help, check with your Red Cross chapter, your local emergency management agency, or your building department to see if there are any volunteer programs available to you.

This section is designed for those who have experience in construction and electrical repair. If you are uncertain about these steps, contact a professional such as a licensed home repair contractor or an electrician.

Make Sure It Is Safe to Go Back

Some floods have more than one crest or peak. Even though the water looks like it’s going down, it may rise again and trap you. Stay tuned to your radio or TV to find out if and when you can go back home. If you are not sure whether you can return, contact your local emergency manager.

Read the safety precautions at the top of this document. Each year about 150 people die because of floods. Many of those fatalities are due to electrocution or other accidents that occur after the floodwaters have gone down. Have someone with you ask you check your home and do repairs. Dress for the task—wear sturdy shoes and gloves.

Watch out: If you have not read the preceding sections of this article series, be sure to review Do Not Enter a Building in The Following Conditions.

Supplies, Tools & Equipment You will Need When It Is Safe to Return Home

Check Your Home Before You Go In after a Flood or other Disaster

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. Before you go in, walk carefully around the outside of your home and check for loose power lines and gas leaks. You will know there is leaking gas by the putrid, distinct odor that is added to gas to let people know gas is leaking. If you find downed lines or leaks, call your utility company.

Check the foundation for cracks or other damage. Examine porch roofs and overhangs to be sure they still have all their supports. Look for gaps between the steps and the home. If you see obvious damage, have a building inspector check the home before you go in. Some communities require official inspections for all buildings after a flood.

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.

Turn off the gas & electricity

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. Leave the door open and, if the gas meter is outside, turn off the gas.

How to Turn Off Electrical Power in a building that has been wet or flooded

Turn off the electricity

Electricity and water don’t mix, so Turn the power off at your home! 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. The electricity must be turned off at the main breaker box or fuse box. Your utility company may have removed your electric meter. This does not always turn off the power.

Watch out: If you would have to step in water to get to your electric box, call an electrician. Simply removing the electric meter does not always turn off the power. If you can get to your electric box without going through or standing in water, you can turn off the power yourself.

Remember that if the electrical or gas controls are inside the home, do not turn them off until you can safely enter your home.

See How to Turn Off the Power main fuse in a building that has been wet or flooded just below, and see ELECTRICAL SAFETY for FLOOD DAMAGE INSPECTORS

Fuse Boxes

  1. Stand on a dry spot.
  2. If your box has a handle on the side, use a dry wooden stick or pole to pull the handle to OFF.
  3. Use the stick to open the door.
  4. Carefully pull out the main fuses. Use a dry wooden stick. 5. Unscrew and remove each circuit fuse main breaker

Breaker Boxes

  1. Stand on a dry spot.
  2. Use a dry wooden stick or pole to open the door.
  3. Use the stick to push the main breaker switch to OFF.
  4. Use the stick to turn each circuit breaker to OFF STEP

Safety Checklist after Flooding

There is a valve next to the gas meter. If the valve handle is parallel to the pipe, the gas is on. You may need a pair of pliers or a wrench to turn the valve. Turn it 90 degrees (a quarter turn) so the handle is perpendicular to the pipe to shut the gas off.

Some gas meter valves will have a hole in the handle. this hole lines up with a hole in the valve body when the gas is shut off. (The gas company uses the hole is used by the gas company to lock or seal the valve closed when the building is vacant.) When the holes are lined up, you know that the gas supply has been shut off.

To be sure the gas is off, write down the numbers on all the dials in the meter. Check the dials at least five minutes later. If the numbers have changed, the valve is not closed. Gas is still flowing. Telephone your utility company for help and keep clear of the area until the gas has stopped flowing.

If you have a fuel oil or propane tank, it may have floated and broken the connecting pipes. Even an underground tank can float. Turn off the fuel valve at the tank and follow the instructions in Step 5 before you turn the fuel back on.

Building Entry Procedures After Disaster or Flooding: Go Inside the building carefully

If the door sticks and has to be forced open, it is 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. You can force the door open but wait outside the doorway for a minute where you will be protected if something falls.

If the door won’t open easily, it may be easier for you to enter your home through a window. Look carefully at the ceiling before you go in to be sure it is not ready to fall.

Do not smoke or use candles, gas lanterns, or other open flames in your home. Air out your home completely—there may be explosive gas.

See BUILDING ENTRY for DAMAGE ASSESSMENT for additional details.

6 Steps to to Check for Evidence of Collapsing Building Components

Check the ceiling for signs of sagging. If there was a lot of wind and rain or if the flood was very deep, your ceiling may be holding water. Wet plaster or wallboard is very heavy and dangerous if it falls. If the ceiling is sagging, do the following before you go in:

  1. Make a poker by attaching a nail or other pointed object to the end of a long stick. (You might hammer a finish nail into the end of a broomstick.)
  2. Stand away from, not under, the sag. (Under a doorway is safest.) Poke a hole in the ceiling at the edge of the sag so any trapped water can begin to drain. Do not start at the center of the sag because the ceiling may collapse suddenly.
  3. After the water drains, poke another hole, lower down the sag. Keep poking holes as you move to the lowest point.
  4. Tear down the sagging ceiling using extreme caution—it’s very heavy. You’ll have to replace it anyway.
  5. Repeat this procedure for any room that has sagging ceilings. Step carefully. Water and mud make a floor very slippery. Also watch for snakes, other animals, loose flooring, holes, and nails.
  6. Check for cabinets and other tall pieces of furniture that might be ready to fall over. Remove mirrors and heavy pictures from walls. They will not stay up if the wallboard is wet.

Rescue the Most Valuable Items in the Building after a Flood

Find and protect the “irreplaceable” valuables such as money, jewelry, insurance papers, photographs, and family heirlooms. Wash the mud off before the items can dry. Put articles in a safe place such as a dry second story or a plastic bag, or take them to a friend’s home.

Photographs, books, and other articles that are easily damaged when wet can be frozen and cleaned later when you have more time. Wash the mud off. Store the articles in plastic bags and take them to a friend who has electricity. Put them in a frost-free freezer to protect them from mildew and further damage until you have time to thaw and clean them. A photographer or camera shop can professionally clean wet photographs.

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 so you can save and restore as much as possible. You can clean up your belongings after you have done the more important things listed here.

Protect Your Home From Further Damage after Flooding

You need to make sure that there will be no more damage from rain, wind, or animals. 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 and ask your agent what expenses are covered by your policy.)

Get fresh air moving through your home. Open windows and doors if weather permits. This will reduce the moisture and get rid of any gas in the home. Do not try to force open a swollen window. Instead of breaking glass, remove the molding and take the window sash out of its frame.

Patch holes. Cover holes in the roof, walls, or windows with boards, tarps, or plastic sheeting. Plastic sheets or trash bags should be nailed down with wood strips or taped with duct tape to keep them from ripping loose. It may not look pretty, but you need to do this so 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 you can’t find it, call the water company for help. Also check floor drains—they may be clogged with debris.

If the water pipes are not leaking, you can use your tap water for hosing and cleaning. But do not drink or cook with tap water until it has been declared safe. (If you are not on a municipal water system, the local health department will usually inspect your well and test your water. See Step 5.)

How to Drain a Flooded Basement or Crawl Space

If your basement is flooded, don’t be in too big a hurry to pump it out. Here’s why.

Water in the ground outside your home is pushing hard against the outside of your basement walls. But the water inside your basement is pushing right back.

If you drain your basement too quickly, the pressure outside the walls will be greater than the pressure inside the walls—and that may make the walls and floor crack and collapse, causing serious damage.


5 Steps for Pumping Water out of a Basement

To avoid this situation, follow these steps when you pump the water out of your basement:

  1. Never go into a basement with standing water in it unless you are sure the electricity is off.
  2. After floodwaters are no longer on top of the ground, you can start pumping the water out of the basement. Do not use gasoline-powered pumps or generators indoors because gasoline engines create deadly carbon monoxide exhaust fumes.
  3. Pump the water level down two to three feet. Mark the level and wait overnight.
  4. Check the water level the next day. If the water went back up, it’s still too early to try to drain the basement. Wait overnight. Then pump the water down two to three feet again. Check the level the next day.
  5. When the water stops going back up, pump down another two to three feet and wait overnight. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until all water is pumped out of the basement. Hose the House and Its Contents

The mud left behind by floodwaters contains most of the health hazards you will face. It is very important to get rid of the mud as soon as possible. This is a lot easier if it is done before the mud dries out.

8 Steps to Clean Out the Basement After a Flood

  1. Shovel out as much mud as possible.
  2. Make sure the electricity is turned off. Unplug all appliances and lamps, remove all light bulbs, and remove the cover plates to wall switches and outlets that got wet. Check with your local building department to see if your code allows you to disconnect the wiring from the switches and outlets. If the code does not allow you to disconnect them, leave the wires connected and pull them out of their boxes as shown in the drawing. They can be replaced during Step 5 by an electrician.

    If the code permits, it is probably best to throw away switches and outlets that were flooded and replace them with new ones. (See Step 5).
  3. Check your water system for leaks from pipes that may have moved. (See Step 5). Even if your water supply is not safe to drink, it can be used for cleaning the home. If you have water, hose the home down, inside and out. If you have an attachment that sprays soap, wash and then rinse the walls and floors. Hose the furniture, too, and other major items that got muddy.
  4. Heating and air conditioning ducts that got flooded will have mud left in them. If you don’t clean them out, your system will be blowing foul, dusty air that contains the same health hazards you are trying to get rid of. To clean the ducts, remove the vents or registers. If possible, remove some sections of the ducts in the basement or crawl space to give you access to all areas. Then thoroughly hose out all the ducts.
  5. While you hose the walls, thoroughly hose out the electrical outlet, switch boxes, and light sockets that you opened up. Follow the steps (found later in this document) before turning the electricity back on.
  6. After you hose out the duct work to remove the mud, wash it with a disinfectant or sanitizer, such as the quaternary, phenolic, or pine oil based ones. (Check labels for the contents and instructions). If your ducts are in a slab or are otherwise inaccessible, have them cleaned by a professional.
  7. Don’t let the water sit on the floor for long, especially if your floor has particle board or other wood product that tends to fall apart when wet. Use a mop, “wet vac,” or squeegee.

Health Precautions During Post-Flood Building Cleaning

Assume that anything touched by floodwaters is contaminated.

Wash hands frequently.

Disinfect everything floodwaters have touched

Flash Flood Watch Warnings

If it is raining a lot, or if you are in mountainous areas, it’s a good idea to keep listening to local radio stations (not stations in locations away from where you are). If you hear a flash flood watch for your area, it’s a good idea to stay on high ground.

If you hear a flash flood warning, climb to higher ground immediately. Leave your car, camping gear, or other belongings where they are. You may have only minutes to escape.

Flash floods can happen without warning. If you hear a rumbling sound, if animals are running away from where you are, or if you feel the ground shaking, climb to higher ground immediately.

Prepare for the Next Flood

Start a flood planning effort that encourages citizens to participate. If no effort is underway, encourage your community leaders to get a flood protection program started.

There are many ways to reduce flood damage. a community flood protection program should consider a variety of activities. The obvious solution often seems to be “fixing” the shoreline or river using flood control projects such as dredging or seawalls. Unfortunately, these activities may not be effective, feasible, or affordable without state or federal aid. Because flood control projects require so much planning, time, and money, communities should also consider and implement other approaches.

Keeping the ditches and drainageways open is very important. Trash, construction materials, shopping carts, and even grass clippings dumped in a ditch can clog bridges and culverts, and add to water pollution.

Neighborhood efforts to keep the ditches clean and to report dumpers can make a big difference in the amount of flooding, especially during smaller storms. Report illegal floodplain construction activities (i.e., those without a permit posted) to the building department.

You can work with your neighbors to monitor stream levels or rain gages to give the community advance warning. It may also be possible to monitor common debris catching sites, such as bridges, and keep the openings clear.

Sandbagging Advice

Sandbagging can be very expensive. If your community wants to establish a plan for sandbagging, you will have to buy sandbags before a flood to be sure you have them on hand. Get burlap or plastic sandbags. Other kinds of bags simply won’t hold up. Burlap or plastic bags cost 25¢ to 50¢ each. Sand and plastic sheeting must also be stockpiled.

Sandbagging can also be very time consuming. It takes two people approximately one hour to fill and place 100 sandbags, giving you a wall one foot high and 20 feet long. If you skimp on the bags, you risk putting up a wall that will be knocked over.

When a flood is imminent, everyone wants to sandbag, usually because they don’t know what else to do. While it does have a therapeutic effect, sandbagging should be considered only as part of an overall flood response plan, or as a last resort for individuals.

A good plan will help use your limited time and resources most efficiently. For example, a food response plan might call for sandbags to fill in gaps in a floodwall.

Sandbagging is supposed to keep water away from vulnerable flood-prone property. Floodproofing measures and moving contents out of the way are much more secure methods to accomplish the same thing. Therefore, before you consider sandbagging for your personal property, consider the flood protection alternatives discussed in Step 8. They are more effective and more dependable ways to protect a home from flooding.

Flood insurance

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. a free copy of Answers to Questions about the National Flood Insurance Program, FIA—2, is available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. See FEMA Regional Office Contact Information & Telephone Numbers.

Helpful References for Cleaning Up a Home or Business After a Flood


Continue reading at Step 3. Get Organized for assessing and repairing flood damage, or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES.

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