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The first things to do after your home has flooded

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 | March 1, 2017
The first things you should do after a flood

Floods are the top natural disaster in the United States. From 2011 to 2015, the average flood claim was for more than $46,000, and the average flood insurance premium in 2015 was $700, according to the National Flood Insurance Program, or NFIP.

For residents of flood-prone states, knowing what to do immediately after their home has flooded is important. Returning to a flooded home can be dangerous, even if the water has receded. Dealing with the water damage quickly and safely is vital to getting the home repaired.

Here are some of the first things to do after your home has flooded:

Get help for essential needs

Getting to your flooded home may be foremost in your mind, but you should first make sure you and your family are safe.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends seeking help from the American Red Cross, which will likely be in the area. It can provide vouchers so you can buy new clothing, groceries, essential medications, bedding, essential furnishings and other items for emergency needs.

The Red Cross can also give you a cleanup kit of a mop, broom, bucket and cleaning supplies.

Know how to travel through a flood zone

Flooded roads may be closed, so if you see a barricade or flooded road, go another way, the Red Cross and FEMA recommend. Listen to the radio about what to do, where to go and places to avoid.

If you’re going to walk to drive in areas that have been flooded, stay on firm ground. Moving water only six inches deep can sweep you off your feet. Flood debris may hide animals and broken bottles, and everything will be slippery.

Wear waders, high waterproof boots and rubber gloves to remove water-damaged items from your home. Avoid contaminants such as sewage or household chemicals that may have spilled into the water.

Avoid structural and electrical risks

Standing water may be electrically charged from downed power lines, so avoid it.

If you can safely turn off the electricity and water to your home, do so. If you’re unsure, call your utility company to see if it can turn them off.

Even if the power to your home isn’t working, turn off the main breaker in your fuse box and all the individual fuse connections. If power does come back on, you won’t be electrocuted if you’re in standing water and electricity.

If you have a basement that’s flooded, consider that the water may have risen above an electrical outlet and that an electrical current is running through the water. Cut off power to the area at the main breaker don’t touch the water until the power is off. Sewage may also fill into the basement, requiring hazard professionals in protective gear to clean it.

If the power is off and you can walk through your home, look for signs of structural damage from the flood. These risks can make the home unsafe, and you should contact your utility companies if you suspect damage to water, gas, electric and sewer lines. Visible structural damage includes warping, loosened or crack foundations, cracks and holes.

Take photos

After your home is safe to enter, start taking photos or videos of the home and your damaged personal property. Don’t start cleaning up immediately, removing water or making repairs.

The photos will help insurance adjustors determine the amount of damage. Removing water or cleaning up before taking photos could lessen the extent of the damage and thus your insurance coverage.

Make a list of damaged or lost items, along with their purchase date and value. If you have the receipts for such items, your insurer may want them.

Call your insurer

You hopefully have the phone numbers of your insurance company and local agent in your disaster kit. Your agent may be busy handling their own flooding or dealing with an overload of clients, so call your insurance company’s headquarters too.

Tell your insurance representative what shape your home is in and the immediate repairs it needs. Follow its directions on if you should wait for an adjustor to inspect the home before making repairs.

Keep in mind that an insurance claim for minimal damage may take only a week to resolve, while it can take up to six months for major repairs to be completed with a contractor and insurance adjustor.

Removing water and mold

If your insurer has given you the green light to begin making repairs, you can start doing the work yourself or hire professionals. A sump pump or water vacuum can be used to remove water. If doors and windows can be opened safely and don’t allow in more water, open them to let fresh air in to circulate.

Mold can develop in one to two days after a flood. Most items that have been wet for that long should be thrown away, though you may want to try to salvage expensive items or things with sentimental value.

Mold can be controlled on surfaces with a non-ammonia detergent or pine oil cleaner and 10 percent bleach solution. However, don’t mix ammonia and bleach products because the fumes can be toxic.

Take photos of every wet item that’s removed, including wet wallboards and baseboards so insurers can see the height of the water damage. You may want to hire a flood restoration service to do all the work.

Secure your home

Chances are your insurance company won’t have time or the manpower to secure your home after a flood so that no more damage occurs. The responsibility will likely fall to you.

Put boards up over broken windows and put a tarp over areas of the roof that were damaged. Take photos of the precautions you made to protect your home from more damage.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist who specializes in the insurance industry. Follow him on Twitter @AaronCrowe.