After a Flood: The First Steps

Your home has been flooded. Although floodwaters may be down in some areas, many dangers still exist. Here are some things to remember in the days ahead.

Roads may still be closed because they have been damaged or are covered by water. Barricades have been placed for your protection. If you come upon a barricade or a flooded road, go another way.

Keep listening to the radio for news about what to do, where to go, or places to avoid.
Emergency workers will be assisting people in flooded areas. You can help them by staying off the roads and out of the way.

If you must walk or drive in areas that have been flooded --

Stay on firm ground. Moving water only 6 inches deep can sweep you off your feet. Standing water may be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.
Flooding may have caused familiar places to change. Floodwaters often erode roads and walkways. Flood debris may hide animals and broken bottles, and it's also slippery. Avoid walking or driving through it.

Play it safe. Additional flooding or flash floods can occur. Listen for local warnings and information. If your car stalls in rapidly rising waters, get out immediately and climb to higher ground.

Staying Healthy

A flood can cause emotional and physical stress. You need to look after yourself and your family as you focus on cleanup and repair.

Rest often and eat well.

Keep a manageable schedule. Make a list and do jobs one at a time.
Discuss your concerns with others and seek help. Contact Red Cross for information on emotional support available in your area.

Cleaning Up and Repairing Your Home

Turn off the electricity at the main breaker or fuse box, even if the power is off in your community. That way, you can decide when your home is dry enough to turn it back on.
Get a copy of the book Repairing Your Flooded Home. It will tell you:

How to enter your home safely.
How to protect your home and belongings from further damage.
How to record damage to support insurance claims and requests for assistance.
How to check for gas or water leaks and how to have service restored.
How to clean up appliances, furniture, floors and other belongs.
Repairing Your Flooded Home is available free from the American Red Cross or your state or local emergency manager.

Getting Help

The American Red Cross can help you by providing you with a voucher to purchase new clothing, groceries, essential medications, bedding, essential furnishings, and other items to meet emergency needs. Listen to the radio to find out where to go for assistance, or look up American Red Cross in the phone book and call.
The Red Cross can provide you with a cleanup kit: mop, broom, bucket, and cleaning supplies.

Contact your insurance agent to discuss claims.

Listen to your radio for information on assistance that may be provided by the state or federal government or other organizations.

If you hire cleanup or repair contractors, be sure they are qualified to do the job. Be wary of people who drive through neighborhoods offering help in cleaning up or repairing your home. Check references.

Tips for the Care of Water-Damaged Family Heirlooms and Other Valuables

Following a disaster, people often lose family heirlooms and other valuables to water damage. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has obtained general information/recommendations from the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) and the National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property (NIC) for homeowners regarding the recovery of water-damaged belongings.

Ten Tips for the Homeowner:

If the object is still wet, rinse with clear, clean water or a fine hose spray. Clean off dry silt and debris from your belongings with soft brushes or dab with damp cloths without grinding debris into objects.

Air dry objects indoors if possible. Sunlight and heat may dry certain materials too quickly, causing splits, warpage, and buckling.

The best way to inhibit growth of mold and mildew is to reduce humidity. Increase air flow wi th fans, open windows, air conditioners, and dehumidifiers.

Remove heavy deposits of mold growth from walls, baseboards, floors, and other household surfaces with commercially available disinfectants. Avoid the use of disinfectants on historic wallpapers.

If objects are broken or begin to fall apart, place all broken pieces, bits of veneer, and detached parts in clearly labeled open containers. Do not attempt to repair objects until completely dry or, in the case of important materials, until you have consulted with a professional conservator.

Documents, books, photographs and works of art on paper may be extremely fragile when wet; use caution when handling. Free the edges of prints and paper objects in mats and frames, if possible. These should be allowed to air dry. Rinse mud off wet photographs with clear water, but do not touch surfaces. Sodden books and papers should also be air dried, or may be kept in a refrigerator or freezer until they can be treated by a professional conservator.

Textiles, leather, and other "organic" materials will also be severely affected by exposure to water and should be allowed to air dry.

Remove wet paintings from the frame but not from the stretcher. Air dry, face up, away from direct sunlight.

Furniture finishes and painting surfaces may develop a white haze or bloom from contact with water and humidity. These problems do not require immediate attention. Consult a professional conservator for treatment.

Rinse metal objects exposed to flood waters, mud, or silt with clear water and dry immediately with a clean, soft cloth. Allow heavy mud deposits on large metal objects, such as sculpture, to dry. Caked mud can be removed later. Consult a professional conservator for further treatment.

Because the information given above is general, FEMA, AIC and NIC strongly recommend that professional conservators be consulted as to the appropriate method of treatment for historic objects. Professional conservators may be contacted through the FREE Conservation Services Referral System of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, 1717 K Street, NW, Ste. 301, Washington, DC 20006; (202) 452-9545; fax: (202) 452-9328. Based on a complete description of the artifact, a computer-generated list of conservators will be compiled and grouped geographically, by specialization, and by type of service provided

Reclaiming Precious Heirlooms and Other Items from Flood Waters

Flood waters leave significant structural devastation in their wake, but sometimes the most wrenching losses are the smallest - personal items such as heirlooms, photographs, textiles and books. With proper handling, however, some of these items may be reclaimed from the flood waters.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency offers these tips based on recommendations of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works and the Heritage Preservation.

  1. Handle wet photos carefully; the surfaces may be fragile. Wet photos may be rinsed in clean water and sealed in a plastic garbage bag with a tie or a Zip-Lock type plastic bag. If possible, put wax paper between each photo. If a freezer is available, freeze the photos immediately. Later, photos may be defrosted, separated and air-dried.
  2. If no freezer or refrigerator is available, rinse wet photos in clean water and dry them, face up, in a single layer on a clean surface (a table, window screen or clean plastic laid out on the ground). Don't dry photos in direct sunlight. Don't worry if the photos curl as they dry. A photo expert can be contacted later about flattening them.
  3. Valuable textiles, such as quilts, laces, needlework or tapestries, will be weaker and heavier when wet and will require extra care. Wear plastic disposable gloves, protective clothing, goggles, and if possible, use a respirator while working on flood-damaged textiles
  4. Do not attempt to unfold extremely delicate fabrics if the fragile layers are stuck together. Wait until they are dry and consult a conservator.
  5. To remove mud and debris, re-wet the textiles with gently flowing clean water or with a fine hose spray. Gently press water out with the palm of your hand. Don't wring or twist dry. Remove excess water with dry towels, blotting paper or blank newsprint, especially if the dyes are bleeding. Avoid stacking textiles while drying. Reshape the textile while it is damp to approximate its original contours.
  6. Don't place textiles in sealed plastic bags. Air dry indoors with the lights on to inhibit mold and circulate the air with air conditioning, fans and open windows. Use a dehumidifier in the room with the wet textiles and drain the collecting container often.
  7. If heirloom items are broken or begin to fall apart, place broken pieces, bits of veneer and detached parts in labeled open containers. Don't attempt to repair objects until completely dry or, in the case of important materials, until you consult with a professional conservator.
  8. Documents, books and works of art on paper may be extremely fragile when wet. Free the edges of prints and paper objects in mats and frames, if possible. These should be allowed to air dry. Sodden papers should also be air dried or may be kept in a refrigerator or freezer until they can be treated by a professional conservator.
  9. Remove wet paintings from the frame but not from the stretcher. Air dry, face up, away from direct sunlight.
  10. If the books are underwater or soaking wet, pick up each one with both hands and place it in a non-paper container (milk crate, wire basket, etc.) so it can be transported safely to an area where it can dry. Keep the book closed while you move it; wet books are very fragile. Remember: the wetter the book, the heavier it is and the more likely to be damaged by rough handling.
  11. The best way to dry books is with cool, dry, circulating air. Never dry them by using an oven, microwave, hair dryer or iron. If the volume is very wet, place it flat on a clean table or bench that is covered with absorbent material. Carefully place sheets of absorbent material (paper towels, blotters or uninked newsprint) between sections of pages. Don't distort the binding, though. Change the sheets as they become wet. To speed drying, change the location of the blotters each time they are replaced. With books that have coated pages, use waxed paper instead of absorbent sheets between pages.
  12. If the volume is damp or only partially wet, stand it upright on its driest edge with its pages fanned open. If you are using fans to keep the air circulating, make sure the spines or covers are facing the breeze. If needed, insert blotting materials between pages.
  13. Once the book is dry but feels cool to the touch, close it and place it on its side with a slight weight on it. Check regularly for mold growth. You can also freeze the books to be defrosted and dried later, when conditions improve.

Professional conservators may be contacted through the free Conservation Services Referral System of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, 1717 K Street, NW, Ste. 301, Washington, DC 20006; (202) 452-9545.

Consumer Product Safety Commission Alert
Courtesy of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Washington, D.C. 20207

Safety Tips for Flood Victims

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends several safety tips to the victims of floods. This safety alert illustrates some dangerous practices which consumers may be tempted to engage in during efforts to rebuild or while staying in temporary housing, tents, or partially damaged homes. This information is provided in an effort to prevent injuries and deaths from consumer products as flood survivors make new beginnings. "We hope this information helps prevent product-related injuries and deaths during these difficult times." -- Chairman Ann Brown

Do not use electrical appliances that have been wet. Water can damage the motors in electrical appliances, such as furnaces, freezers, refrigerators, washing machines, and dryers.

If electrical appliances have been under water, have them dried out and reconditioned by a qualified service repairman. Do not turn on damaged electrical appliances because the electrical parts can become grounded and pose an electric shock hazard or overheat and cause a fire. Before flipping a switch or plugging in an appliance, have an electrician check the house wiring and appliance to make sure it is safe to use.

Electricity and water don't mix.

Use a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) to help prevent electrocutions and electrical shock injuries. Portable GFCIs require no tools to install and are available at prices ranging from $12 to $30.

When using a "wet-dry vacuum cleaner," be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions to avoid electric shock.

Do not allow the power cord connections to become wet. Do not remove or bypass the ground pin on the three-prong plug. Use a GFCI to prevent electrocution.

NEVER remove or bypass the ground pin on a three-pronged plug in order to insert it into a non-grounded outlet.

NEVER allow the connection between the machine's power cord and the extension cord to lie in water.

To prevent a gas explosion and fire, have gas appliances (natural gas and LP gas) inspected and cleaned after flooding.

If gas appliances have been under water, have them inspected and cleaned and their gas controls replaced. The gas company or a qualified appliance repair person or plumber should do this work. Water can damage gas controls so that safety features are blocked, even if the gas controls appear to operate properly. If you suspect a gas leak, don't light a match, use any electrical appliance, turn lights on or off, or use the phone. These may produce sparks. Sniff for gas leaks, starting at the water heater. If you smell gas or hear gas escaping, turn off the main valve, open windows, leave the area immediately, and call the gas company or a qualified appliance repair person or plumber for repairs. Never store flammable materials near any gas appliance or equipment.

Check to make sure your smoke detector is functioning. Smoke detectors can save your life in a fire. Check the battery frequently to make sure it is operating. Fire extinguishers also are a good idea.

Gasoline is made to explode!

Never use gasoline around ignition sources such as cigarettes, matches, lighters, water heaters, or electric sparks. Gasoline vapors can travel and be ignited by pilot light or other ignition sources. Make sure that gasoline powered generators are away from easily combustible materials.

Chain saws can cause serious injuries. Chain saws can be hazardous, especially if they "kick back." To help reduce this hazard, make sure that your chain saw in equipped with the low-kickback chain. Look for other safety features on chain saws, including hand guard, safety tip, chain brake, vibration reduction system, spark arrestor on gasoline models, trigger or throttle lockout, chain catcher, and bumper spikes. Always wear shoes, gloves, and protective glasses. On new saws, look for certification to the ANSI B-175.1 standard.

When cleaning up from a flood, store medicines and chemicals away from young children. Poisonings can happen when young children swallow medicines and household chemicals.
Keep household chemicals and medicines locked up away from children. Use the child resistant closures that come on most medicines and chemicals.

Burning charcoal gives off carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide has no odor and can kill you. Never burn charcoal inside homes, tents, campers, vans, cars, trucks, garages, or mobile homes.

WARNING: Submerged gas control valves, circuit breakers, and fuses pose explosion and fire hazard!

Replace all gas control valves, circuit breakers, and fuses that have been under water:
GAS CONTROL VALVES on furnaces, water heaters, and other gas appliances that have been under water are unfit for continued use. If they are used, they could cause a fire or an explosion. Silt and corrosion from flood water can damage internal components of control valves and prevent proper operation. Gas can leak and result in an explosion or fire. Replace ALL gas control valves that have been under water.

ELECTRIC CIRCUIT BREAKERS AND FUSES can malfunction when water and silt get inside. Discard ALL circuit breakers and fuses that have been submerged.