Returning Home After A Flood

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When returning to a home that’s been flooded after a natural disaster, be aware that your house may be contaminated by floodwaters, mold, or sewage, all of which can cause health risks for your family. Below are some tips for Skagitonians who may be returning home after flooding.

When you first reenter your home.

Before returning home, make sure that it is safe to do so. Always pay attention to authorities for information and instructions. 

When it is safe, try to return to your home during the daytime so that you do not have to use any lights. Use battery-powered flashlights and lanterns, rather than candles or gas lanterns. Please keep the following in mind:

  • If you have standing water in your home and can turn off the main power from a dry location, then go ahead and turn off the power, even if it delays cleaning. If you must enter standing water to access the main power switch, then call an electrician to turn it off. NEVER turn power on or off yourself or use an electric tool or appliance while standing in water.
  • If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve, open all windows, and leave your house immediately. Notify the gas company or the police or fire departments or State Fire Marshal’s office, and do not turn on the lights or do anything that could cause a spark. Do not return until you are told it is safe to do so.
  • If the house has been closed for several days, enter briefly to open doors and windows to let the house air out for a while (at least 30 minutes) before you stay for any length of time.
  • If your home has been flooded and has been closed for several days, assume your home has been contaminated by floodwater, sewage, and/or mold. See Floodwater After a Disaster or Emergency.

Stay out of floodwater.

Floodwaters contain many things that may harm health. It is important to protect yourself from exposure to floodwater regardless of the source of contamination. The best way to protect yourself is to stay out of the water.

If you come in contact with floodwater:

  • Wash with soap and clean water as soon as possible. If you don’t have soap or water, use alcohol-based wipes or sanitizer.
  • Take care of wounds and seek medical attention if necessary.
  • Wash clothes contaminated with flood or sewage water in hot water and detergent before reusing them.

If you must enter floodwater, wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, and goggles.

Throw away unsafe food.

Throw away food that may have come in contact with flood or storm water; perishable foods that have not been refrigerated properly due to power outages; and those with an unusual odor, color, or texture. Unsafe food can make you sick even if it looks, smells, and tastes normal. When in doubt, throw it out. For more information, visit Keep Food Safe After a Disaster or Emergency.

Use safe water.

Floodwater can contaminate your drinking water. Some contaminants from surface water get into the groundwater and affect private drinking water wells and municipal water systems that use groundwater.

Do not use water you suspect or have been told is contaminated to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash and prepare food, wash your hands, make ice, or make baby formula. Safe water for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene includes bottled, boiled, or treated water.

For tips on how to properly disinfect contaminated water, go to Public Health’s Safe Water webpage or give us a call at (360) 416-1500.

For well water:

Wells that have been flooded may be contaminated with pathogenic organisms that can cause disease (bacteria, viruses). To have well water tested, contact one of the labs below:

  • Edge Analytical, Burlington: 360-757-1400
  • Everett Environmental Laboratory, Everett: 425-257-8230
  • Monroe Water Quality Laboratory, Monroe: 360-794-6558
  • Exact Scientific Services, Ferndale: 360-733-1205
  • Lynden Water Treatment Plant, Lynden: 360-255-5470

For septic systems.

For information about what to do with your septic system after a flooding event, go to: https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/septic-systems-what-do-after-flood.

Clean up your home safely.

Before you begin to clean, be sure to check in with your insurance company. You may need to document any damage to your property.

Take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones during the cleanup process. For more information, visit Clean Up Safely After a Disaster. Some quick tips?

  • Using personal protective equipment (or “PPE”), like gloves, eye protection, and a dust mask to avoid breathing in fine silts and sands.
  • Be sure to wear long sleeve shirts and pants while cleaning and wash hands frequently with soap and water.

Use generators and other electrical equipment safely.

Talk to your utility company about using electrical equipment, including power generators. Be aware that it is against the law and a violation of electrical codes to connect generators to your home’s electrical circuits without the approved, automatic-interrupt devices. If a generator is online when electrical service is restored, it can become a major fire hazard. In addition, the improper connection of a generator to your home’s electrical circuits may endanger line workers helping to restore power in your area.

All electrical equipment and appliances must be completely dry before returning them to service. Have a certified electrician check these items if there is any question. For more information, see Protect Yourself and Others From Electrical Hazards After a Disaster.

Never use a generator, pressure washer, any gasoline-powered engine, or charcoal grills inside your home, basement, or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door, or vent. Visit Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning After an Emergency for more information.

Dry out your home to prevent mold.

If flood or storm water has entered your home, dry it out as soon as possible to prevent mold. Here’s some helpful guidance:

People with asthma and other lung conditions and/or immune suppression should not enter buildings with indoor water leaks or mold growth that can be seen or smelled. Children should not take part in disaster cleanup work.

If you have electricity and an electrician has determined that it’s safe to turn it on, use a “wet-dry” shop vacuum (or the vacuum function of a carpet steam cleaner), an electric-powered water transfer pump, or sump pump to remove standing water. If you are operating equipment in wet areas, be sure to wear rubber boots to avoid electrocution.

If you do not have electricity, or it is not safe to turn it on, you can use a portable generator to power equipment to remove standing water. Note: If you must use a gasoline-powered pump, generator, pressure washer, or any other gasoline-powered tools to clean your home, never operate the gasoline engine inside a home, basement, garage, carport, porch, or other enclosed or partially enclosed structures, or less than 20 feet from any door, window, or vent, even if the windows and doors are open. Such improper use can create dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide and cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

If weather permits, open windows and doors of the house to aid in the drying-out process.

Use fans and dehumidifiers to remove excess moisture. Fans should be placed at a window or door to blow the air outwards rather than inwards, so not to spread the mold.

Have your home heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system checked and cleaned by a maintenance or service professional who is experienced in mold cleanup before you turn it on. If the HVAC system was flooded with water, turning on the mold-contaminated HVAC will spread mold throughout the house. Professional cleaning will kill the mold and prevent later mold growth. When the service determines that your system is clean and if it is safe to do so, you can turn it on and use it to help remove excess moisture from your home.

Prevent water outdoors from reentering your home. For example, rainwater from gutters or the roof should drain away from the house; the ground around the house should slope away from the house to keep basements and crawl spaces dry.

Ensure that crawl spaces in basements have proper drainage to limit water seepage. Ventilate to allow the area to dry out.

For more information on mold cleanup, visit Homeowner’s and Renter’s Guide to Mold Cleanup After Disasters.


If you have questions or concerns about re-entering your home, please contact Skagit County Public Health at (360) 416-1500 or email EH@co.skagit.wa.us.


Are you Prepared for a Flood?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

On October 4th, the Skagit County Commissioners declared this week (October 11-15, 2021) Flood Awareness Week. Flood Awareness Week offers multiple opportunities for community members to get involved and learn about flood preparedness for themselves and their families.

Each year, more deaths occur due to flooding than any other hazard related to thunderstorms. Fortunately, you can take steps to protect yourself, your family, and your home! A great way to learn about floor preparedness is participating in two free webinars being held this week:

Flood Awareness with the Department of Emergency Management
Wednesday, October 13 from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Join via zoom here: https://bit.ly/3uqlmdE

NOAA Weather Spotter Training
Thursday, October 14 from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Join via Zoom here: https://bit.ly/3uE569d

Not able to attend a training this week? That’s okay! Keep reading for some important steps to reduce the harm caused by flooding.

Stay informed about flooding risks in your area

Photo from the Roger Fox Collection, taken from Burlington Hill looking down into town during the flood of 1921.

Information about flooding in Skagit County, and some helpful flood preparation resources, can be found at www.skagitcounty.net/flood. Skagit also prepares a Flood Awareness Week booklet each year, which you can find that booklet online here.

Skagit County offers a variety of alert tools for residents, as well. You can sign up for CodeRed Alerts, follow @SkagitGov on Twitter, or sign up for news releases to receive key emergency information before, during, and after an event.

For more information on Skagit County flood response, call 360-416-1400 or visit www.skagitcounty.net/flood.

Prepare for Flooding

Sometimes floods develop slowly, and forecasters can anticipate where a flood will happen days or weeks before it occurs. Oftentimes flash floods can occur within minutes and sometimes without any sign of rain. Being prepared can save your life and give you peace of mind.

Create a Communications Plan

It is important to be able to communicate with your family and friends in the event of a disaster. Whether it’s having a specific person identified to contact for status updates or a safe location to meet up with family members, having a plan in place will give you peace of mind if disaster does strike.

Assemble an Emergency Kit

It is good practice to have enough food, water, and medicine on hand to last you at least 3 days in the case of an emergency. Water service may be interrupted or unsafe to drink and food requiring little cooking and no refrigeration may be needed if electric power is interrupted.

You should also have batteries, blankets, flashlights, first aid kit, rubber boots, rubber gloves, and a NOAA Weather Radio or other battery-operated radio easily available.

Prepare Your Home

Burlington Northern Sante Fe Bridge over the Skagit that failed in 1995, stopping rail traffic for a couple of weeks.

1. If you have access to sandbags or other materials, use them to protect your home from flood waters if you have sufficient time to do so. Filling sandbags can take more time than you may think.

2. Have a professional install check-valves in plumbing to prevent flood waters from backing up into the drains of your home. Make sure your sump pump is working and consider having a backup. Make sure your electric circuit breakers, or fuses, are clearly marked for each area of your home.

3. Since standard homeowners’ insurance doesn’t cover flooding, ensure coverage by contacting your insurance company or agent to purchase flood insurance. This must be done before there is even a threat of flooding as insurance companies stop issuing policies if there is a threat of flooding. (i.e. an approaching hurricane).

Many flood insurance policies take at least 30 days to go into effect so even if you can buy it as a storm is approaching, it may not protect your home. For more flood insurance facts: https://www.fema.gov/flood-insurance

During a Flood Watch or Warning

  • Listen to your local radio or television station for updates.
  • Evacuate immediately, if told to evacuate. Never drive around barricades. Local responders use them to safely direct traffic out of flooded areas.
  • Prepare your family and pets. You may be evacuated, so pack in advance. Don’t wait until the last moment to gather the essentials, including emergency supplies.
  • Have immunization records handy. Store immunization records in a waterproof container.
  • Fill bathtubs, sinks, gallon jars, and plastic soda bottles so that you will have a supply of clean water. Sanitize sinks/tubs first by cleaning them using a solution of one cup of bleach to five gallons of water. Then rinse and fill with clean water.
  • Bring in outdoor possessions (lawn furniture, grills, trash cans) or tie them down securely.
  • Charge your essential electronics. Make sure your cell phone and portable radios are all charged in case you lose power or need to evacuate. Also make sure you have back-up batteries on hand.
  • If evacuation appears necessary: turn off all utilities at the main power switch and close the main gas valve.
  • Leave areas subject to flooding, like low spots, canyons, washes, etc. (Rememberavoid driving through flooded areas and standing water.)

After Flooding Has Occurred

  • Turn Around, Don’t Drown! Do not walk, swim or drive through flood waters or standing water. Just six inches of moving water can knock you down, and one foot of moving water can sweep your vehicle away.
  • If you have been evacuated, return to your home only after local authorities have said it is safe to do so.
  • Do not drink flood water, or use it to wash dishes, brush teeth, or wash/prepare food. Drink clean, safe water. Listen to water advisory from local authorities to find out if your water is safe for drinking and bathing. During a water advisory, use only bottled, boiled, or treated water for drinking, cooking, etc.
  • When in doubt, throw it out! Throw away any food and bottled water that comes/may have come into contact with flood water.
  • Prevent carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Use generators at least 20 feet from any doors, windows, or vents. If you use a pressure washer, be sure to keep the engine outdoors and 20 feet from windows, doors, or vents as well.
Aerial photo of the town of Hamilton in 2003.

The initial damage caused by a flood is not the only risk. Standing flood waters can also spread infectious diseases, bring chemical hazards, and cause injuries. After you return home, if you find that your home was flooded, practice safe cleaning.

For ways to stay safe after flooding, visit: https://www.ready.gov/floods#prepare.

For more information:

https://www.ready.gov/floods
https://www.weather.gov/safety/flood


Be Prepared If You Have To Go

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Guest post by Skagit County Emergency Management

Right now, we’re all reminded of the power of nature. The West Coast is experiencing historic wildfires, and the Gulf Coast is reeling from an unusually active hurricane season. Even though the thought of needing to evacuate your home might be stressful, it’s important to prepare for that possibility now. Planning ahead can reduce anxiety. Being prepared and knowing what to do will help you when a major disaster strikes.

In recent months, we’ve been reminded of how important it is to have items stocked and ready, from food and water to face masks. It’s good to have supplies if you can’t leave your house, but what happens if you can’t stay there? There are steps you can take now to prepare, such as having a Go Bag ready in case you need to leave your home, and establishing a game plan for when it’s time to go. What do you take if you have 5, 10 or 30 minutes to evacuate? Have some bare necessities ready to go, and know what you’ll grab if you have time.

What can you do now?

Know when it’s time to go—sign up for alerts and warnings. Skagit County uses CodeRED for local emergencies and alerts. NOAA weather alerts are available, and many weather apps can be set to notify you of new alerts. If you travel to an area outside the county on a regular basis, check with the emergency management for the local area and sign up for alerts there as well.

Document your property with pictures or create a video with details about special items. Send the files to your email or an internet cloud location like Dropbox so you can access it from anywhere, and consider sending it to your emergency contact person to store.

Build a Go Bag for each person. Use a backpack or plastic tote that is small enough to be easily handled by one person. Everyone has a different set of priorities for items to include, so cover your high priorities first. If you have kids, let them help build their Go Bag, and let them choose some of the things that go in it so they have ownership of it. First things first, though—ALWAYS know where your wallet and cell phone are!

Priority items to have in Go Bags:

  • Face masks and hand sanitizer for everyone
  • Nonperishable food and manual can opener—replace food every 6 months
  • 1 gallon of water per person per day and/or a way to sanitize water to be drinkable
  • Essential medications
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • Personal hygiene items, including toilet paper
  • Important documents stored in a waterproof container: think identification, medical and financial essentials, such as an emergency contact list, insurance papers, birth certificates, driver’s license, marriage license, list of important numbers like social security, credit cards, bank accounts, vehicle and property paperwork
  • Consider special needs in your household, such as elderly, infant, access and functional needs, pets—each may have special medical needs, specific food needs, supplies, and records
  • Radio and extra batteries
  • Small comfort item, like a copy of your favorite family photo or a small stuffed animal
  • Other items to consider:
    • Money, checks, credit card
    • Sturdy shoes
    • Change of clothes
    • Sleeping bag/blanket
    • Cell phone charger
    • Whistle
    • Garbage and zip-top bags
    • Bleach
    • Matches
    • Picnic items or camp mess kits to eat from

What do you do when it’s time to go?

If there is no time, remember People, Pets, and Packs. Grab your people, your pets and your Go Bag and GO! In some emergencies, there is no time to get more. You need to get to a safe area as quickly as possible. Your life can not be replaced.

If you have 5 minutes: Add essential medical equipment, non-vital medications, glasses, laptop and charger, and any items from the list above that aren’t already in your Go Bag.

If you have 30 minutes and room in your vehicle: Add treasured family items, individual emotional comfort items, changes of clothes, and computer backups. Prepare your home as much as you can in the time you have: turn off utilities, move furniture depending on the reason for evacuation (fire: away from walls, flood: off the floor), move things that can catch fire or explode under heat away from your house, such as vehicles, grills, and firewood.

Every step you take today helps to mitigate the effects of large scale events on our families and communities. Make a game of drilling your family on what to take during an emergency—have them run around and put a sticker on what they consider the most important items while you time them. Make a list of those items and put the list in a zip-top bag attached to the front of your Go Bag. Knowing when to leave and what you will take during an emergency can give you one less thing to worry about in today’s world.

Resources:

Redcross.org

Ready.gov