Many people think that as long as they don't live near a body of water, they're safe from floods. Sadly, this misconception has cost many a homeowner their money, possessions, time, and peace of mind. The truth is, while floods may occur more often in low-lying areas near water, damaging flood waters can find you anywhere — in any season.
Even the best flood preparation might not spare you from all possible damage, but it can go a long way toward reducing your out-of-pocket expenses and decreasing the amount of time it takes to get your life back on track. The single-most important step you can take is arming yourself with knowledge about what to do and what to expect in the event of a flood.
Facts about floods
Here are some facts you may not know about floods.
Floods are the most common natural disaster in the U.S. They have occurred in all 50 states.
The National Flood Insurance Program paid out 95,253 flood claims in 2017.
Floods can be triggered by heavy rain, snowfall, hurricanes, tropical storms, and the overflow of nearby dams.
Even a few inches of standing water in a home can cause structural damage.
While most floods develop slowly, flash floods can occur without warning, creating a wall of water that stands 10 to 20 feet high.
What to do before a flood occurs
Take these important steps now to protect yourself against future floods.
Know your risk of flooding. Visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Flood Map Service Center to get an idea of how common floods are in your area.
Develop a plan. Determine where you would go if you needed to evacuate your home due to a flood. Chart the best evacuation routes to get there. Make sure everyone in your household knows the plan. This is particularly helpful if you're not all together at the time of the flood.
Keep important supplies and documents close at hand. Store food, water, extra clothing, emergency supplies, and important documents — like insurance policies — in a waterproof bag or container. Place them in an easy-access spot in case you need to evacuate quickly. Don't forget medications, pet supplies, and other items you might need.
Prepare your home. Do what you can to minimize potential flood damage: install check valves in your sewer lines, install a sump pumps, and store valuables on a higher level of your home.
Stockpile sandbags. Placing sandbags around your home can help prevent flood waters from seeping inside.
Purchase a flood insurance policy. Floods aren't covered by traditional insurance policies. If you live in the U.S., consider purchasing flood protection from the National Flood Insurance Program.
What to do when a flood occurs
When a flood is imminent, you must act quickly. Here's what you need to do.
Stay alert. Keep an eye on the news for flood updates.
Protect your home appliances. Turn off the water and electricity. Shut off the gas if you know how to do it safely.
Protect your valuables. Move them to the highest level of your home. If possible, store them in a waterproof container.
Seek high ground. If you're trapped outside, head for the nearest hill. If you're inside, go to the highest floor in the building.
Stay with your vehicle. If you become trapped inside a vehicle, stay inside unless water is rising inside the vehicle. If that occurs, climb onto the roof.
Follow directions from authorities. If you are advised to evacuate, do so immediately. Follow your predetermined evacuation route or the one laid out by emergency responders.
What to do after a flood occurs
When a flood ends, the danger hasn't necessarily passed. Keep these tips in mind during the aftermath of a flood.
Don't return home until it is safe. If you had to evacuate, wait to return until the authorities say it is safe to go back home.
Stay away from standing water. It may be contaminated with sewage or other debris that could pose a risk of injury or illness.
Be careful when entering your home. Flood waters may have weakened your home's foundation, and there may be animals that sought refuge in your house during the flood.
Don't use electricity. If you use electricity around standing water, you risk being electrocuted. Don't use any electrical items in your home until you're sure it's safe to do so.
Have your home checked for damage. If flooding is severe, you should have your home checked for gas leaks and water supply contamination.
Clean items touched by flood water. Items should be washed and disinfected. If they cannot be properly cleaned, they should be thrown out. Discard contaminated food as well.
Be careful when using generators. If you're using a gas-powered generator, you should keep it outside and away from windows to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
File an insurance claim. If you have flood insurance, file a claim so that you can be reimbursed for the damage and get your life back in order as quickly as possible.
Flood safety tips
Do not attempt to walk or drive through flood waters. Even six inches of moving water could whisk a vehicle away.
Don't go near bridges. If water is moving fast, it could wash the bridge away.
Do not turn the gas back on yourself. If you shut off the gas to your home, you must call a licensed professional to turn it back on.
Do not go around barricades erected by local emergency responders. This could lead you directly into the flood waters.
Q. How much does a flood insurance policy cost?
A. The cost of a flood insurance policy depends on the value of your home and the risk of flooding in your area. The average flood insurance policy costs about $700 per year. That's a small price to pay when you consider that flood damage could cost you tens of thousands of dollars.
Q. How do I know if I'm at risk for a flash flood?
A. Flash floods often emerge without warning. They may be triggered by intense rainfall or the breaking of a dam. If it's raining heavily, keep an eye on your local weather forecast for flash flood watches or warnings.
Q. Do I have to get flood insurance?
A. That depends on where you live. In high-risk flood areas, mortgage lenders may require homeowners to purchase flood insurance in order to protect their investment. Even if you're not required to buy flood insurance, it's a good idea to purchase it anyway. Otherwise, you could end up paying for repairs out of your own pocket.
Kailey is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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