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What to do after a flood


September 20, 2019

If you evacuated

  • Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
  • Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded. and watch out for debris.
  • Do not attempt to drive through areas that are still flooded.

If you stayed in the area or as you return

Listen to official public information to get expert, informed advice as soon as it becomes available. After the rising water has stopped, use the following considerations and precautions:

Inside safety

  • If your home was severely flooded, you may only be able to enter when officials say it is safe to do so. Stay out of any building surrounded by floodwaters.
  • Use extreme caution when entering flooded buildings. There may be hidden damage, particularly in foundations. Personal safety considerations include protecting yourself from electric shock, mold contamination, asbestos, and lead paint. Turn off electricity at main breaker or fuse box. Homeowners who are unfamiliar with electricity or their home’s electrical systems should contact their local power company or a qualified electrician to assist them in making their property safe from electrical hazards after a flood. Check for loose boards and slippery floors.
  • Do not touch electrical equipment if it is wet or you are standing in water.
  • Shut off utilities to a flooded home or building.
  • Use flashlights, not lanterns, torches, or matches, to examine buildings. Flammable gases may be inside the structure and open flames may cause a fire or explosion.
  • If you turned off your gas, a licensed professional is required to turn it back on.
  • Carbon monoxide exhaust kills. Use a generator or other gasoline-powered machine ONLY outdoors and away from windows so the fumes do not get inside. The same goes for camping stoves. Fumes from charcoal are also deadly—cook with charcoal ONLY outdoors.

For more information, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website on preventing carbon monoxide poisoning after an emergency at

Outside safety

  • Stay away from moving water, especially near rivers, streams, drainage systems, and coastal areas.
  • Avoid wading in floodwater, which may be contaminated by oil, gasoline, or raw sewage.
  • Watch for dangerous debris (e.g., broken glass, metal fragments), dead animals, or venomous snakes that may be in floodwaters. Before walking through debris, use a stick to check for hidden dangers. Underground or downed power lines may electrically charge the water.
  • Do not drive in areas where floodwater covers the road.-Stay away from downed power lines and report them to 911 or the power company’s emergency number.
  • Stay away from damaged areas unless police, fire, or relief organizations have requested your assistance


  • Use local alerts, radio stations, and other local information sources, such as American Red Cross apps, to get information and advice as soon as available.
  • Use text messaging or social media to communicate with family and friends. Telephones and cellular phone systems are often overwhelmed following a disaster, so use phones only for emergency calls.

Health and sanitation

  • Listen for news reports to learn whether the community’s water supply is safe to drink.
  • Service damaged septic tanks and leaching systems as soon as possible. A damaged sewage system is a serious health hazard.
  • Have wells checked for contamination from bacteria and chemicals.
  • Clean and disinfect everything that got wet. Mud left from floodwater can contain sewage, bacteria, and chemicals. Take precautions and wear appropriate protective equipment such as gloves, safety glasses, and face masks. Follow five basic steps for post-flood building restoration, including (1) air out, (2) move out, (3) tear out, (4) clean out, and (5) dry out. Seek out professional services and/or guidance before attempting to repair flood-damaged property.
  • Throw out any food, including canned items, that was not maintained at a proper temperature or has been exposed to floodwaters. Do not eat food from a flooded garden. When in doubt, throw it out.
  • Remove and replace any drywall or other paneling that has been underwater. Use a moisture meter to make sure that wooden studs and framing are dry before replacing the drywall. Mold growth in hidden places is a significant health hazard.

Care for loved ones

Look for signs of depression or anxiety related to this experience, such as feeling physically and mentally drained; having difficulty making decisions or staying focused; becoming easily frustrated on a more frequent basis; feeling tired, sad, numb, lonely, or worried; or experiencing changes in appetite or sleep patterns. Seek help from local mental health providers if you detect these signs in yourself or others.


Photograph damage to your property and contact your insurance agent. Do what you can to prevent further damage that insurance may not cover (e.g., putting a tarp on a damaged roof).