For most of us, our home is by far our most valuable possession. But every year, more homes in the U.S. are damaged by floods than any other natural disaster.
People who live near water are not the only ones who experience flooding. Floods move, and can spread for miles. They can have strong currents that, in a few moments, can sweep away everything that took a lifetime to accumulate, leaving a thick residue of mud and debris behind.
The fact is, a flood could happen to you. The leveling of forests and overbuilding of lands have meant that soil can no longer absorb excess water the way it once did. So with little warning a storm can turn into a devastating flood - even if you don't live near a river or stream.
Fortunately, you can protect yourself and your future from the crippling financial losses often caused by flooding through a program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Under FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), Federally backed flood insurance is available in communities that adopt and enforce regulations to reduce flood losses.
Flood insurance provides coverage that your homeowners insurance doesn't - coverage for damages caused by floods. You can protect your home and its contents through the NFIP, if your community is participating in the program.
To become eligible, a community first enters the emergency phase of the NFIP by adopting preliminary actions to reduce the flood threat. Everyone in that community can then apply for limited amounts of flood insurance at federally-subsidized rates.
Much higher levels of insurance become available when a community qualifies for the regular program phase. This occurs after FEMA has conducted a detailed flood study, and local officials have enacted more stringent measures to safeguard life and property from future flooding.
Flood insurance is far better protection that depending on Federal disaster assistance, which is available only if a disaster is Federally declared.
As long as your community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, except for areas protected by the Coastal Barrier Resources Act, you can purchase a flood insurance policy. Whether you live in an area likely to floor or in one that is at low risk, you can purchase flood insurance.
Flood insurance is available on almost any enclosed building and its contents. This includes homes, condominiums, mobile homes on foundations, businesses and farms. The contents of a rental unit are also insurable.
Flood insurance is required by law in order to get federally secured financing to buy, build or improve structures in the flood hazard areas of a participating community. This includes federal grants, FHA and VA loans, as well as most conventional mortgage loans.
Coverage is available for residential and commercial buildings and contents, and can also be purchased by renters:
- Up to $250,000 for single-family, two-to-four family, and other residential buildings
- Up to $500,000 for non-residential buildings, including small businesses
- Up to $100,000 for contents coverage for residences for owners and/or renters
- Up to $500,000 for contents for businesses, including small businesses
At a time when flooding causes more than $2 billion in property damage each year, you cannot afford to think that it will never happen to you. It can happen, and often when it's least expected. Call your insurance company/agent to find out if your community participates in the NFIP. If it does, ask for details about how to buy flood insurance. Do it today. Policies go into effect 30 days after a policy is purchased. Protect your home and your family today. National flood insurance may be the only thing standing between you and financial disaster.
To find out more about flood insurance and whether your community is eligible contact your insurance company/agent or call the NFIP at 1-888-CALL-FLOOD, ext 314.
After A Flood
After a flood the devastation to a community is obvious. During the flood and its aftermath, you should remember these basic facts to help protect your personal health and safety.
Sanitation and Hygiene
You have to practice basic hygiene during the emergency period. Always wash your hands with soap and water that has been boiled or disinfected.
- Before preparing or eating food
- After toilet use
- After participating in flood cleanup activities
- After handling articles contaminated with flood water or sewage.
Flood waters may contain fecal material from overflowing sewage systems, and agricultural and industrial byproducts. Although skin contact with flood water does not, by itself, pose a serious health risk, there is some risk of disease from eating or drinking anything contaminated with flood water. If you have any open cuts or sores that will be exposed to flood water, keep them as clean as possible by washing well with soap to control infection. If a wound develops redness, swelling, or drainage, seek immediate medical attention.
People who suffered a puncture wound and haven't had a tetanus shot in the past five years should get a booster. Contact your county health department for information.
Listen for public announcements on the safety of the municipal water supply. Flooded, private water wells will need to be tested and disinfected after flood waters recede. Questions about testing should be directed to your local or state health departments.
Water for Drinking and Cooking
Safe drinking water includes bottled, boiled or treated water. Your state or local health department can make specific recommendations for boiling or treating drinking water in your area. Here are some general rules concerning water for drinking and cooking. Remember:
- Do not used contaminated water to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash and prepare food, or make ice.
- If you use bottled water - know where it came from. Otherwise, water should be boiled or treated before use. Drink only bottled, boiled or treated water until your supply is tested and found safe.
- Boiling water kills harmful bacteria and parasites. Bringing water to boil for 10 minutes will kill most organisms.
- Water may be treated with chlorine or iodine tablets, or by mixing 6 drops of unscented, ordinary household chlorine bleach (5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite) per gallon of water. Mix the solution thoroughly, and let stand for about thirty minutes. However, this treatment will not kill parasitic organisms.
Safe Handling of Flooded Foods
- Meat, poultry, fish and eggs
- Fresh produce
- Jams/jellies sealed with paraffin
- Home canned foods
- Commercial glass jars or food or beverages including "never opened" jars with waxed cardboard seals (such as mayonnaise and salad dressings), cork, pop tops, or peel-off tops.
- All foods in cardboard boxes, paper, foil, cellophane or cloth
- Spices, seasonings, and extracts
- Opened containers and packages
- Flour, sugar, grain, coffee and other staples in canisters
- Cans dented, leaking, bulging or rusted, or those that may have been contaminated by industrial waste.
- Undamaged commercial canned goods are safe if sanitized before opening.
- To sanitize cans - first mark contents on can lid with indelible ink. Remove labels, paper can harbor dangerous bacteria. The, wash cans in a strong detergent solution using a scrub brush. Finally, immerse containers for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach per quart of room temperature water. Air dry before opening.
- Sanitize dishes and glassware the same way. To disinfect metal pans and utensils, boil them in water 10 minutes. Discard wooden spoons, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers.
- Sanitize the inside and outside of your refrigerator as well as any food contact surfaces.
- After washing in soapy water and rinsing in clear water, use one measuring tablespoon of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water to rinse and allow to air dry.
- For Infants:
- Use only pre-prepared canned baby formula that requires no added water rather than formulas prepared with treated water.
For more information call the USDA Food Safety Hotline: (800) 535-4255
Swiftly Flowing Water
If you enter swiftly flowing water, you risk drowning, regardless of your ability to swim. Swiftly flowing water can be deadly, and even shallow standing water can be dangerous for small children. Cars or other vehicles do not provide adequate protection from flood waters. Cars can be swept away or may break down in moving water.
Flood waters may have buried or moved hazardous chemical containers of solvents or other industrial chemicals from their normal storage places.
Propane tanks represent a very real danger of fire or explosion. Do not move them. Contact police or fire departments or your State Fire Marshal's office.
Car batteries may still contain an electrical charge - remove with extreme caution by using insulated gloves. Avoid coming in contact with any spilled acid.
Watch for animals, especially snakes. Small animals that have been flooded out of their homes may seek shelter in yours. Use a pole or stick to poke and turn over and scare small animals away.
- Do not corner an animal
- Rats may be a problem - take care to secure all food supplies and remove any animal carcasses by contacting your local animal control authorities
- If you are bitten by any animal, seek immediate medical attention
- If you are bitten by a snake, first try to accurately identify the type of snake so, if poisonous, the correct anti-venom may be administered
- Be especially cautious around piles of trash, building materials or debris
- Do not let children play in these areas
- Do not care for wild animals, as they may have rabies
Precautions When Returning To Your Home
- Avoid downed power lines, particularly those in water
- Try to return in the daylight
- In the dark, use battery-powered flashlights and lanterns, rather than candles, lanterns or torches
- Shut off electrical power and natural gas or propane tanks to avoid fire, electrocution, or explosions
- If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve, open all windows, and leave the house immediately. Notify the gas company or the police, fire department or the State Fire Marshal's office. Do not turn on the lights or do anything that could cause a spark. Do not return to the house until you are told it is safe to do so.
- If you see frayed wiring or sparks, or if there is an odor of something burning but no visible fire, you should immediately shut off the electrical system at the circuit breaker.
Download these informative pamphlets published by FEMA
Avoiding Flood Damage: A Checklist for Homeowners
During or After a Disaster Fact Sheet on Flood Fire Safety
Floods and Flash Floods - Emergency Information
Source: CDC - Center for Disease Control and Prevention; USDA - FSIS - Food Safety and Inspection Service; American Red Cross; FEMA