Friday, March 05, 2010

What to do when your house floods: A real-life preparedness tale

For Christy of Arlington, Va., one late night last April was especially memorable. Awaking unexpectedly in the middle of the night, Christy found that her basement bedroom was filled with water as high as her bed.

The drain outside the back door of Christy’s bedroom was clogged, and rainwater had been collecting for six hours as she slept. According to Christy’s roommate, Tricia, "it was only when she kicked off a sock off the bed and heard a splash that she realized something was wrong."

"Christy knocked on my upstairs bedroom door at 4 a.m., and we jumped into action to help salvage what we could of her possessions," Tricia told APHA’s Get Ready team recently. "In the meantime, the water swelled to two feet high."

Luckily, the two roomies were able to reach a 24-hour emergency plumber, who snaked the drain and removed the clog, which turned out to be a dead squirrel. (Yuck.) The water quickly subsided, but the cleanup and recovery were just beginning.

As this wet (and messy) story shows, you don’t have to live in a flood plain to be at risk of a flood in your home. Water can enter your house from broken pipes, clogged gutters and sewage drains, heavy rains or melting snow. Should your house flood, know what steps you should take to protect you, your loved ones and your possessions.

Here’s a few tips you can use:

• Once a flood occurs, remove the water as soon as possible. If you have a large amount of water and there’s no drain, use a sump pump.

• Be careful when using an electric appliance in a house that’s been flooded. Never turn on wet electric appliances, because they may cause an electric shock, overheat or cause a fire.

• Once the water subsides, open doors and windows to let the moisture escape and use fans to help dry out the house and prevent mold.

• If you are working in potentially contaminated areas, wear appropriate protective clothing and respirators. Wash all clothing and body parts that may have come in contact with sewage or other contaminants.

For more helpful flood tips, download and share the Get Ready campaign’s flood fact sheets, (pdf) which are available in both English and Spanish.

"My housemates and I now have a flood detector that sounds should water collect on the basement floor, and we’ve installed a protective cover over the back drain to prevent future clogs," Tricia said. "If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s no fun to wake up to a wet, flooded house."

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto, Tony Campbell

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