Mother Nature hasn’t been very kind to the nation this fall, with back-to-back hurricanes of historic proportions. Much of the damage from these storms was created by flooding, with the combined damage estimated to approach $300 billion. Although floods are very difficult if not impossible to prevent, there are several things to consider in the aftermath of a flood. This month, we are going to discuss some of these factors.
The tendency for most owners of a flooded structure is to get inside as soon as possible. But this can also be one of the most dangerous times. Water can hide numerous hazards, including live electrical wires, structural weakness or damage and broken glass or other sharp objects. For these reasons, it is never recommended to enter a structure while it is still flooded. Even after the waters have receded, it is wise to contact with the municipal building department or fire department to be certain that the building is safe to enter. Once the structure is deemed safe, first inspect the exterior of the property, taking care to note downed or loosened power lines, issues with utility meters/service mains and any apparent structural issues. Take this time to document any damage to the roof, walls, windows and doors.
Once the property is deemed safe to enter, all of the utilities should be shut off at their main service point, including electricity, gas and water. Extreme caution should be taken when shutting off the electricity, especially if there is standing water in the immediate area of the main panel. Unless you are experienced, it is always wise to consult an electrician to assist. Sturdy shoes or work boots should be worn at all times and any areas that appear to have had their structural integrity compromised should be avoided. As with the exterior, the entire interior should be inspected, documenting any damage to interior floors, walls and ceilings as well as window and door openings.
Most owners want to start the cleanup process immediately, but any residual water should be pumped out gradually to minimize structural damage. Check the ceilings, walls and drywall for signs of sagging – this indicates that water is trapped and needs to be drained. Any holes in the roof, windows, walls and doors should be covered with sheeting or tarps and any compromised areas of the structure should be addressed with proper bracing. Introducing immediate air circulation is a must, as trapped moisture will enhance mold growth. When dealing with interior moisture, it is always wise to consult a professional to determine the extent of potential mold damage and begin the remediation process. This can include replacing wallboard/drywall, wall covering and insulation that has been affected and removing any wet carpet, bedding, drapery and clothing. The longer this process takes to initiate, the worse the eventual damage will become. Appliances and mechanical units should be checked, again with the assistance of a technical expert if necessary.
Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States, but, ironically, many insurance policies do not cover flood damage or water damage from hurricanes or other acts of nature. Be sure to have a good awareness of what exactly your policy covers and, if in an area prone to flooding, consider purchasing specific flood insurance. If you do have a claim, be familiar with the requirements about reporting a loss. Complete an initial incident report that captures the period immediately before and after the loss. Document the damage using photos and/ or video. And list any injuries associated with the incident, including conversations with emergency personnel and any actions taken by on-site staff.
Finally, have an understanding of the potential for flooding by knowing where your property is located in relation to flood plains. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) producing public flood zone maps. And the advanced hydrologic prediction service of the National Weather Service provides flood forecasting as well as assistance in emergency planning. These can be great resources and, while these certainly will not prevent a flood from happening, they certainly can help to minimize the potential impact.