Floods can happen in the blink of an eye and getting caught in one can be scary and potentially very dangerous. Fast moving water has the power to sweep away vehicles, destroy homes and floods claim an average of 81 lives per year.
The severity of natural disasters has been steadily increasing since the 1970s according to AccuWeather, and it’s predicted that flood damage from this past winter will surpass one billion dollars. Many remember the devastating flood damage caused by Superstorm Sandy, which resulted in more than $65 billion in damage while claiming 159 lives. Next to Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy was the second most costly natural disaster in U.S. history. More recently, Texas and Oklahoma have been hit with heavy rains and flash floods, causing billions in damages.
Recovering from massive floods can be a slow and arduous process, however, there are a few things you can do to help things along.
1. Purchase Flood Insurance
Standard homeowners insurance typically doesn’t cover flood damage, but flood insurance is available through The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). This insurance is optional for most homeowners, however, if you have a mortgage from a federally regulated or insured lender and your home or business is in a high risk area, you’re legally required to buy flood insurance. Even if you don’t live in a high risk area, flood insurance may still be a sound purchase – one third of all disaster-related assistance goes to moderate-to-low risk flood areas.
2. File a Claim Immediately
If your property is affected by a flood, you should file a claim immediately. Flood insurance covers the structure and its foundation, the electrical and plumbing systems, central air conditioning equipment, furnaces, water heaters, refrigerators, cooking stoves, built-in appliances and permanently installed carpeting over unfinished flooring. Contents coverage includes clothing, furniture, electronic equipment, curtains, portable and window air conditioners, portable appliances, carpeting that is not already included in property coverage and clothing washers and dryers.
There are two main forms of reimbursement: Replacement Cost Value (RCV) and Actual Cash Value (ACV). RCV pays for the cost to replace damaged property while ACV covers personal property by valuing everything at RCV minus depreciation. The NFIP will cover up to $250,000 for the home’s structure and $100,000 for personal possessions.
3. Assess the damage
The days following a flood are crucial, and your safety is the most important concern. Check for structural damage before entering your home. It may be unsafe to enter if the building is unstable. If it’s safe, take pictures of floodwater for your insurance provider. Don’t turn on the power until you’ve had your electrical system inspected by a qualified electrician.
Document the damage with photographs and start making a list of all damaged property. Ideally you would already have a complete inventory list of all owned property documented with photos and receipts, which will expedite the reimbursement process. Salvage as much of your personal property as possible. Remove and dry any wet items to prevent mold growth and corrosion.
The insurance company will send an adjuster to survey the damage and in the interim, you can make temporary repairs to protect your property from additional damage. Retrieving quotes from contractors can also help expedite the claims process. You may be required to fill out a loss form as well, and the more detail you can provide the better.
4. Start the clean-up process
Cleaning up thoroughly after a flood can be a long and challenging process, but it’s by no means impossible. The Flood Safety Education Project provides a detailed step-by-step list for restoring a home after a flood. Here are a few highlights:
- Shovel out contaminated mud and disinfect surfaces;
- Take furniture, rugs, bedding and clothing outside to dry and throw away soggy mattresses;
- Open windows and use fans, air conditioning units or a dehumidifier to get air circulating;
- If you have a flooded basement, make sure only to pump out two or three feet a day (pumping too fast creates pressure build-up outside the walls, causing floors to crack and collapse);
- Floor coverings need to be removed for the subflooring to thoroughly dry, which can take several months;
- Carpeting exposed to sewage-contaminated water or submerged underwater for 24 hours or more should be discarded for health reasons;
- Salvageable carpet can be dried out with a wet/dry vacuum and disinfected with bleach (the sooner the better); and
- Don’t use appliances until they are thoroughly checked, cleaned and sanitized by a professional.
Floods can wreak havoc on your property and clean up can be a lot of work, but following these guidelines will help you weather the storm. It’s possible to make it through a flood and fully restore your home with some preparation beforehand and thorough cleaning after the flood waters subside.