What To Do If You’re Flooded: Advice from the School of Hard Knocks

Daniel Russ, a retired fire Nevada chief, owns a house near the coast of Southwest Louisiana. boulder flood reliefThe place has been flooded not once, but twice! First it was inundated by hurricane Rita, and then by hurricane Ike. Each time, more than four feet of water invaded the house.

Having graduated from the school of hard knocks, Dan has seasoned advice to offer.

I met Dan on Boulder Flood Relief’s website, and then corresponded with him personally. He told me, “I found that, after returning to my flooded home, I didn’t quite know what to do. Here is a list that I made up and followed. If you have a friend who was flooded please, please print this out and give it to them.”

It’s a great list, and I’m sure lots of folks here in Colorado can use it. Share it with everyone!

 What to do if your home is flooded

  1. Turn off the power at the breaker box.
  2. Make sure the house is stable and safe to enter.

    Ruined furnishings pulled out of a house in Longmont.
  3. If you can locate a camera, take lots of pictures. Be sure to take pictures of the outside of the house as well.
  4. Wear rubber boots, Playtex-type gloves, cheap filter masks (N95) and eye protection, if needed.
  5. Clean out the fridge right away! Get that stinky food out of the house.
  6. Get all of the ruined furniture out to the road or in the front yard.
  7. Store good stuff elsewhere. Remove valuables!
  8. Find a squeegy and/or wide shovel, and a box of large heavy duty black trash bags.
  9. Cut the drywall above the high water mark. Remove any drywall or paneling at least a foot above the high water mark.

    Drywall cut above the line of flooding.
    Drywall cut above the line of flooding.
  10. Remove any wet insulation.
  11. Get all of the wet stuff (insulation, drywall, and carpet) out of the house.
  12. If you can find a propane or butane heater, open the windows and fire it up. You should be able to drive a lot of moisture out of the windows before mold takes over.
  13. Go to Sam’s Club or Walmart and buy something called Odo-Ban (a little of it goes a long way). It will kill the smell. Use only as directed! The sooner you do it the better!
  14. If you have or can borrow a travel trailer, move it to your yard and have someone stay there. This will ensure that your belongings will remain yours.

Ross writes, “These are all immediate repairs you can make. Most people can do it themselves  — and with a few friends.” Currently, Boulder Food Relief, the  organization I wrote about in my previous post, is organizing lots of new friends to help flood victims in Boulder and Longmont, Colorado to take the above 14 steps.

What happened to Russ’ home

“In my case,” Russ told me, “the house was considered a ‘total loss’ by the FEMA inspector who came several months after the storm. (Then a year later I was hit by another hurricane and flood.) I got a modest amount of money to start my rebuild.“

Russ notes that most Colorado flood victims were unlikely to have flood insurance, and adds that “only rising waters covered by flood insurance. So everything you can do to save your house will be a major savings to you and your family.”

More flood recovery tips

  • Saving photos. If your photos are all wet, keep them wet (for now). Store them in water until you can dry them properly. Drying photos — by placing them behind glass or plastic photo album covers — will not work. They will stick as they dry, which will ruin them. They must be spread out on a table or hung (like photographers do) to dry properly.

    Renata Hill and her husband, Steve, helped move tons of mud and sand in the hard-hit area of north Boulder near Jay Road.
  • Generator and Heater Safety Tips. Please remember that if you are running a generator or a butane or propane heater, these devices are dangerous.  To dry your house, you need to follow these precautions:
    • Operate any generator, butane or propane heater outside, in a well-ventilated area. Well-ventilated does not mean in the garage. Both devices give off poisonous carbon monoxide gas, which can kill you if breathed in over a period of time. You cannot smell carbon monoxide gas. It will put you to sleep, and then you will die.
    • If you are drying your house out with a butane or propane heater, get it working and then get out of the house.
    • Keep electrical cords out of the water.
    • ]If your house is serviced by gas or propane and it smells of rotten eggs when you enter. Leave the house right away, leaving the door open. Find the gas valve on the tank or on the gas meter and turn it off. Enter only after the smell clears.”

    The entire CU-Boulder men’s lacrosse team pitched in to help Boulder flood victims.

Watch out for the sharks

While volunteering with Boulder Flood Relief, I saw both extremes of human nature on view at the flood site. As I followed the volunteers into a house, a man stopped me on the street and asked, “Do you need help?”

Boulder Flood Relief Volunteers rally for another day of mudslinging.
Boulder Flood Relief Volunteers rally for another day of mudslinging.

I laughed and replied, “No, I’m here to give help.”

He grinned slyly and said, “Are you makin’ money?”

Shocked, I replied, “No, not at all. I drove a couple hundred miles to be here, at my own expense. I’m with a team of volunteers, all of whom are giving their time.”

At that, he just walked off.

Interior of Boulder grocery store during the flood.
Interior of Boulder grocery store during the flood.

Although I was taken aback, Russ would not be surprised at this exchange. He said, “There will be a lot of fly-by-night contractors fleeing to your area. They will show up at your door offering help and talk a good line of B.S. It’s important to remember that it’s all an act and they are only there to take your money and enrich themselves. Tell them you’ll “have to think about it” and get rid of them.”

Unfortunately, disasters bring out all sorts of unscrupulous characters, and Russ sends this piece of advice about working with contractors.

  • Only deal with contractors who are licensed, reputable, established and from your area. Many will overbook themselves and then string you along.
  • Ask for their license and get everything in writing!
  • Do not pay anything up front.

Russ says, “I learned this the hard way.  I lost tens of thousands trying to deal with these types. Use extreme caution. Only use established local contractors or do it yourself.”

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