Survival Guide for Iowa Floods of 2016

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Home under water from Iowa floods in 2016

Iowa is under siege from rising, raging rivers and thousands of home and business owners are wondering how they are going to survive the floods of 2016.

A deluge of rain storms have pummeled the Eastern half of the Hawkeye State and have Iowa’s rivers overflowing their banks and invading towns and cities from Decorah to Iowa City. Greene alone became a floating city after being ravaged by 14 inches of rain in less than 24 hours. Disaster declarations have been declared in 13 counties in Iowa and Wisconsin.

“There’s a lot of devastated people out there,” Decorah city clerk Wanda Hemesath said.

From the Cedar to the Shell Rock to the Maquoketa to the Wapsipinicon to the Iowa, the state’s rivers have surged to their highest crest levels since the historic flood of 2008. In Cedar Rapids, the Cedar River crested at 23 feet on Sept. 27, 11 feet above flood stage and its second highest high water mark on record. The Cedar’s dangerous rage led community officials to recommend over 5,000 residents evacuate their homes.

“Temporary flood control measures have been constructed over the last 2-3 days in an effort to contain rising water, but there are no guarantees of safety,” the city said in a Sept. 26 news release. “The public should not be walking, biking or driving in the evacuation area, and should not go near or climb on the Hesco barriers and beams.”

While not expected to deal the massive financial damage the 2008 floods inflicted on the state (which left hundreds of millions of dollars in damages and severely damaged 561 city blocks in Cedar Rapids alone), this year’s floods will inflict a serious hurt on home and business owners.

How can home owners and business owners minimize and weather the damage of this year’s floods?

A quick response plan is essential to getting your home and business back to normal as fast as possible.  Here is a 9-step plan to keep in mind:

  • Evacuate if ordered
  • Avoid additional damage with a comprehensive damage assessment
  • Document the damage
  • Protect your health
  • Call your insurance company
  • Determine if your property stands in a disaster area
  • Remove water
  • Mitigate mold damage
  • Secure your property

Evacuate If Ordered: You Can’t Save What’s Already Lost.

There is no more valuable asset than your family. Home and business owners who are in flood zones and told to evacuate should adhere to city and state officials’ directions.

“Anyone standing or on a bicycle or in a car doesn’t stand a chance” in the event of a breach (of the flood wall), Cedar Rapids mayor Ron Corbett said. “That’s why the evacuation is so important.”

Avoid Additional Damage With A Comprehensive Damage Assessment

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends home and business owners returning to their home to assess the damage begin their inspections by checking for any visible structural damage such as warping, loosened or cracked foundation elements, cracks and holes before entering the home and contact utility companies if you suspect damage to water, gas, electric and sewer lines.

Also, turn off all water and electrical sources within the home to avoid the risk of mixing standing water and electricity.

Document The Damage

Before removing water or attempting to make repairs, fully document the damage for your insurance company by taking photos and recording video evidence. Digital photos and videos are the best because they can be stored electronically and easily copied.

As tempting as it may be to go into clean-up mode first, attempting to remove water or make repairs before you photograph the damage could potentially decrease the extent of your insurance coverage.

Protect Your Health

Do not venture into water in your home without wearing protective equipment like waders, waterproof boots and rubber gloves. Floodwaters that have seeped into homes could be contaminated by sewage or household chemicals.

“When we have flooding, there’s the potential for people to get sick,” says Jim Judge, a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council. “Anytime you come in contact with floodwaters, you potentially come in contact with bacteria and sewage.”

Also, FEMA recommends boiling water until authorities declare the water supply is safe.

Call Your Insurance Company

Have your insurance company and local agent’s phone number in your phone and contact them as soon as possible after the flood. Find out the extent of your coverage and have an adjust inspect your property before making repairs.

Determine If Your Home Stands In A Disaster Area

Once a region has been declared a disaster area by government authorities, property owners have access to increased resources, including public services to protect and remediate the area, and financial assistance.

Remove Water

Once your insurer gives you the OK to remove water from your home, use a sump pump (available at most hardware and home supply stores for $150 to $500) and a wet vac ($40-$130) to take out the water.  As always, ServiceMaster 380 is a phone call away if you need assistance.

Mitigate Mold Damage

Remember, you can’t sit on mold after flooding. Mold can develop within 24 to 48 hours after a flood. If an item has been wet for less than 48 hours, it may be salvageable. Large pieces of furniture that are saturated should be discarded. Mold growth can be contained on surfaces by cleaning with non-ammonia detergent or pine oil cleaner and disinfecting with a 10 percent bleach solution. Take photographs before removing wet wallboards and baseboards. Insurers will want to see the height of any water damage to walls.

Secure Your Property

Prevent additional damage to your property by boarding up broken windows and doors, and secure the roof with a tarp if it has been damaged.

Iowa’s floods of 2016 have been a terrifying ordeal for thousands of Iowans, but quick and smart thinking and learning from the state’s past flooding issues can help home and business owners weather the storm and safeguard their family’s and business’ future.

“There is much less property in harm’s way today than there has been in the past,” Iowa City state senator Joe Bolkcom told the Cedar Rapids Gazette. “There is the opportunity for people to protect their property in a way that just didn’t exist in 2008.”

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