Take it from someone who has seen 27 inches of water lap against the living room walls: plan ahead. No photo album should live lower than three feet in a cabinet. Children’s cheerleader pom-poms and refrigerator art are no longer stashed on the closet floor. And, never throw away old phone books — they can raise Grandma’s heirloom drop-leaf just high enough to save it. (Remember, phone books swell and get even higher when wet!)
There’s a lot you can save. But you’ve got to plan, while the sun is shining.
If house flooding occurs
Should a sustained storm bring record rainfall to your area, your home may take in water. Even if you are not near a river or bayou, your neighborhood may be so saturated that water simply has no place to go but in and up.
If your street water is climbing into your yard and/or if your neighborhood is prone to flood:
- Put on rubber soled shoes or rubber boots. Do NOT go barefoot in your home.
- If possible, move your car off the street into the garage.
- Remove gasoline cans and flammables from the garage or put them high into the rafters of your garage.
- Grab your pre-prioritized list of items that must be moved higher (onto a tabletop or countertop), such as documents, photos and computers.
- Unplug all electric cords from wall sockets in anticipation of water rising over the socket.
- Turn off electricity at the breaker if you believe that water will approach sockets.
- Remove lower drawers from dressers and place higher — they swell shut if wet.
- If you have a one-story home, go into your attic while the water is still low and check for a roof exit if necessary. Bring with you any necessary tools you would need to create an attic opening to your roof.
- Keep exterior doors closed. Unless you are near a river or creek, most rising water does NOT enter through doorways, but through ground saturation. So chances are, it will come from everywhere at once. Doors need to remain closed to keep out animals and insects that are groping for places to land.
- Keep battery-operated communication devices on for updates on weather and evacuation boats that may be coming through your area.
- Do not drink water from the tap until you have been advised that the water system was not contaminated.
- If your house is flooding, your toilets won’t flush. Have a temporary “chamber pot” designated. Camping toilets are good to have on hand.
When it’s over
- First, call family members to let them know where and how you are.
- Then, call the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for assistance in your area.
- If you have flood insurance, call your agent.
- Pull out your camera and take pictures of the damage. Visual aids assist agents, if you have flood insurance.
The aftermath of a mess
Depending on the amount of water, the type of home and your geographic area, these tips may help you save belongings:
- Hardwood Floors: (sitting on screeds, not pre-fabricated) every 3-4 feet, remove a plank and save it. Wood is porous and swells when wet, making the planks “pop” out and appear unsalvageable. But wood dries out and returns to its normal position. Wait several weeks and then replace the missing plank. Removing planks immediately after a flood allows the foundation and wood to dry out faster.
- Remove carpet AND carpet padding immediately.
- Remove the molding around the floors that are against the wall and save. This speeds up drying.
- Rent or purchase at least two dehumidifiers if possible, and run them 24 hours for several days. They truly do pull out tremendous moisture.
- Borrow fans and turn the air conditioner colder for several days.
- Sheetrock must be cut out at least three feet above the water line AND insulation removed as well. Insulation is highly absorbent.
- Swab down the gutted exposed boards with a mix of one quarter cup bleach to a gallon of water to prevent mold.
- Clean-up equipment: When using sprayers, wet vacs, vacuum cleaners and other cleaning equipment, use an extension cord with a ground fault circuit interrupter or install a GFCI in the electrical circuits in damp environments.
To save wet documents
- If valuable papers have gotten wet, chances are you won’t have time to pull them apart and find a large enough area to let them dry. If they are partially drying, they will stick together and rip.
- So, take the entire file or stack of papers and resubmerge them briefly in water. Then wrap them in plastic and put them in freezer bags and freeze them until you have time to deal with them. They stay preserved and, for some reason, thaw without sticking together or ripping.
- Saving photos: resubmerge and gently pull apart. Lay them on a flat surface to dry. Remember, photos are developed in liquid in the first place.
Cleaning up mold
After a storm or flooding is over, mold can be a serious problem. Act fast to prevent or clean it up:
- Protect yourself from injuries during cleanup by wearing
- Hard hats,
- Heavy work gloves,
- Waterproof boots with steel toes, and
- Earplugs or headphones (if you’re working with noisy equipment).
- Clean up and dry out your home quickly after the storm ends — within 24 to 48 hours if you can.
- Air out your house by opening doors and windows.
- Use fans to dry wet areas.
- Clean wet items and surfaces with detergent and water.
- Fix any leaks in roofs, walls or plumbing as soon as you can.
- Throw away anything that you can’t clean or dry quickly. For example, you might need to get rid of carpeting and some furniture.
If you notice mold, clean it up with a mix of bleach and water:
- Never use bleach in a closed space. Open windows and doors first.
- Put on rubber gloves.
- To make your cleaner, mix 1 cup of household bleach with 1 gallon of water.
- Clean everything with mold on it.
Remember that anything that’s had contact with floodwater could carry germs. To keep your kids safe, make sure their toys are clean:
- Make a cleaning fluid by mixing 1 cup of bleach in 5 gallons of water.
- Wash off toys carefully with your cleaner.
- Let the toys air dry.
You may not be able to kill germs on some toys — like stuffed animals and baby toys. Throw out toys you can’t clean.
Surviving a summer night without power
Trying to sleep in Houston without air conditioning when “low” temps are in the 90s could be used as a medieval torture device. Try misting your sheets with water to stay cool. Combined with a battery-powered fan, this technique won’t exactly mimic A/C, but it may allow you to sleep for a few uninterrupted hours.
The dangers of standing water
Flood waters and standing waters pose various risks, including the risk of drowning (even in shallow water), infectious diseases, contact with sewage and chemical and electrical hazards, and the potential for injuries. Flood waters can displace animals, insects, and reptiles. To protect yourself and your family, be alert and avoid contact. In addition, flood waters may contain sharp objects, such as glass or metal, that can cause injury and lead to infection. Avoid standing or moving about in flood waters as much as possible.
DEET: Your anti-mosquito protection
Along with your other first aid preparations, have on hand good bug spray containing DEET — the one ingredient proven to thwart disease-carrying mosquitos.
Patrol the perimeter
Not only will wind damage a fence, heavy rains can waterlog fence posts, causing the fence to lean or collapse long after the storm passes. Check the entire perimeter of your fence for damage as well as potential damage and shore up any weak spots. Before letting pets roam freely in the yard, also inspect the perimeter for low-lying spots and areas that might have washed out during heavy rains, leaving easy-to-dig escape routes for adventurous animals. Also, inspect the yard for any broken glass or other sharp debris before leaving pets unattended.
Looters are unfortunately a very real threat after almost any disaster. Some of them are armed; all of them are nasty. Unpleasant as conditions are, you may need to decide whether leaving the area is better than losing everything of value you have left.
Dangers with generators: carbon monoxide poisoning
If you are using a combustion engine generator to provide electricity and AC while your power is out, think twice, and certainly do not put it inside your home. Generators can cause death through carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.
CO is an odorless, colorless gas that can kill or seriously and permanently injure people who inadvertently breathe in the noxious fumes emitted from generators in an enclosed space.
During hurricane season, emergency rooms see a rise in cases of CO poisoning from people bringing generators into their homes to provide power, often for air conditioning.
Food safety after a hurricane
Keep food fresh
- If your power is out, keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to keep in the cool air.
- Put a block of ice in your refrigerator if you expect the power will be out for more than 4 hours. It will keep food cool longer. Wear heavy gloves when handling the ice.
- Even if it’s partially thawed, you can still cook or refreeze frozen food as long as you can see ice crystals or if it’s still 40°F (degrees Fahrenheit) or lower.
Throw out spoiled food
Get rid of food if it:
- Is in a can that’s open, damaged or bulging.
- Has a strange smell, color or texture.
- Needs to be refrigerated but has been warmer than 40°F (degrees Fahrenheit) for 2 hours or longer. Foods that need to be kept cold include meat, eggs, fish, poultry, and leftovers.
Clean off canned food
If you have cans of food that came in contact with floodwater or storm water, you need to clean them off to make sure they’re safe to use. To get germs off the outside of the cans:
- Remove the labels.
- Dip the cans in a mix of 5 gallons of water and 1 cup of household bleach.
- Label the cans with a permanent marker so you know what’s inside.
Water safety after a hurricane
Ask local officials or listen to the news to find out whether you can drink tap water or use it for washing. If it’s not safe, use bottled water if you can. If you don’t have bottled water, there are some things you can do to kill germs in dirty water and make it safe to drink. For example:
- Bring water to a rolling boil for 1 minute.
- Use household bleach. Add 1/8 teaspoon of new, unscented liquid bleach to 1 gallon of water. Stir well. Let the water sit for 30 minutes before you drink it.
- Use water-purifying tablets. Adding these to water make it safe to drink. Follow the product’s directions.
Feeding your baby
If you have a baby, protect her from germs in unsafe water. You can:
- Keep breastfeeding if that’s what you normally do.
- Use canned or premixed liquid formula.
- Use bottled water to make formula from a powder or concentrate.
If you don’t have bottled water, use boiled water to make formula. Make sure the water has cooled before mixing it with formula and giving it to your baby.
Only use treated (disinfected or purified) water to make formula if you don’t have access to bottled or boiled water.