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Coping with flood damage

Disaster responders are trying to get the message out: you have the power to decrease flood damage.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | September 17, 2004

"Thousands of people who experience flood losses never purchased insurance because they never thought they'd need it."

—Noah Thacker

Disaster responders are trying to get the message out: you have the power to decrease flood damage.

And with disaster awareness high across the nation, now is a good time to assess your own flood vulnerability, said Noah Thacker, a West Virginia-based FEMA representative who has responded to flood events spanning the states of FEMA region.

A good first step is to find out if your community is involved in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). "Over 19,000 communities nationwide participate in the National Flood Insurance Program," explained Thacker.

The NFIP is a federal program enabling property owners and renters to purchase flood insurance. It is based on an agreement between a community and the federal government. The agreement states that if a community adopts and enforces floodplain management regulations that at least meet minimum federal requirements, the federal government will make flood insurance available to individuals in that community.

How do you know if you're in a floodplain? The floodplain is identified as a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) in your community's Flood Insurance Study and the accompanying Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) published by FEMA. Your community's building officials or floodplain administrators have these documents available for you to see.

The NFIP requires participating communities to regulate through building permits any new or substantially improved structures during non-disaster periods and to monitor and identify any substantially damaged structures as a result of a disaster within the community's floodplain areas. Participating communities adopt an ordinance requiring new buildings to be elevated at or above the Base Flood Elevation within the identified floodplain. Your building and floodplain management officials are responsible for implementing the requirements of the local floodplain management ordinance, including the substantial damage provisions. Following a disaster declaration, the requirements pertaining to substantial damage will be presented to your community officials in detail at meetings held in various locations.

If your community doesn't participate in NFIP, at the very least you should double-check what flood-related losses your personal policies cover. "Thousands of people who experience flood losses never purchased insurance because they never thought they'd need it," said Thacker.

If Ivan has already caused flood damage in your home, there are some surprisingly simple steps to make cleanup seem less daunting, Thacker pointed out. "We're talking about simple, down-to-earth tools."

FEMA has produced several short booklets that can help residents prepare for floods and begin cleaning up safely.

The most important personal safety step is to keep a barrier - rubber gloves, boots, protective clothing - between you and anything touched by floodwaters. Before you enter your home, be sure the power company has turned the electricity off, and make sure the gas is off as well. Open all doors and windows to allow damp air to escape. Then remove all wet contents, including furniture, carpets, rugs, clothing and food. Discard all contaminated food products, even canned goods.

After a major storm or flood, you must assume that all water sources are contaminated until proven safe. FEMA recommends discarding food that has been touched by floodwaters, and purifying all water used for drinking, cooking, laundry, housecleaning and bathing. But don't try to purify water that has color or odor, or contains solid matter.

With the entire state of Kentucky under a landslide warning issued by the National Geological Survey office in Louisville, emergency officials also warned people not to underestimate the danger of landslides. Although the signs of imminent danger may seem obvious, many people fail to evacuate. People should evacuate immediately if rapid water or slurry flow is impacting the house.

In steep terrain, debris dam bursts can occur very quickly. People should evacuate immediately if house cracks are actively opening, the house is making noises, walls or floors are tilting, ground cracks are opening under the house, or any portion of the house is falling away.

Before storms hit, simply cleaning your gutters and fixing broken and leaking downspouts can help lessen damage. By conducting roof and downspout drainage to a safe place - and that means not into the ground or onto a sloped area - you can decrease the chances of landslides on your property. Controlling road, driveway and patio water away from slopes and into storm drains also helps.

In Appalachia, small bridge driveways are often washed away by floodwaters, stranding residents. If a driveway washes away, there are ways to rebuild it that make it less vulnerable to flood damage. Waterway crossing sites should be located where there is fairly level ground - or at least sufficiently long approaches with gentle grades; where there are firm and stable soil conditions; where the crossing will be at right angles to the waterway; at a site of relatively shallow water depth and low velocity during floods; away from fish spawning areas, water intakes and lake outlet sites; where a minimum of scouring and sediment displacement will occur; and with adequate space for entering the public highway at right angles.

For a downloadable link to four flood-related booklets developed by FEMA, scroll to "Related Web sites," below.

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More links on Mitigation


Related Links:

Cleaning Up: Information on Clean Up and Repair of Flood Damaged Property

Homeowner's Landslide Guide

Private Bridges, Culverts and Low Water Crossings

Protecting Your Home From Flood Damage

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