Water, water everywhere

How you react when your home is flooded is crucial not least for safety and insurance reasons, writes Kya deLongchamps.

Flooding has become a very real issue in the past few years, and for many families with property in or close to flood basins living by rivers and lakes, it’s a perennial worry.

For the rest of us, the idea of being knee deep or completely swamped in our own homes whether from an act of nature or a burst water main seems so unlikely that we don’t ever plan for what we would do if catastrophe struck.

Hopefully, you are insured, but it doesn’t end there. You are responsible to mitigate the damage as far as possible following the flood event. Here are the basics for handling a flood situation, but keep in mind that safety comes first and last whatever you’re facing. Always co-operate with emergency services.

They’ve been here before and will put you and your wellbeing as their priority not the survival of your material goods.

Facing a flood that’s already occurred:

¦ If you find the house seriously flooded, don’t go after your possessions first. Treat all electrical wiring as live wiring. Water and electricity are dangerous companions.

If you don’t know where the shutoffs are, and the house is already flooded, don’t go looking for them. Call for help.

¦ If the water is deep enough to cover sockets, stay out of the house or stay upstairs, call for help immediately at 999 or 112, giving precise directions. Shout from an upstairs window if there’s no phone. Try to stay calm until help arrives.

¦ Have electrical and gas outlets checked by a qualified individual (Bord Gais for gas, an RECI professional elected by the ESB for the electrics) before entering the house and using any appliances.

¦ Call your insurance company’s emergency helpline. Don’t search for any lost paperwork, just give them your name and address if you have to. Take their advice regarding things like alternative accommodation if your policy covers this.

¦ Depending on the extent of the flooding, the floors and ceilings of the house may be damaged by water and damp and likely to give way. Only a structural engineer or experienced contractor approved by your insurer can determine this. Don’t take any chances with second stories, stairs and suspended floors.

¦ Flood water is often dirty, and as it’s probably picked up your sewerage it’s likely to be highly contaminated. Even wading through without waterproof boots and leggings it is potentially dangerous to your health. Throw away all food near the water including everything in the fridge and cupboards.

¦ Ventilate. As soon as the water has receded, and having ensured it’s safe to move around the house, you must start the process of drying the place out. Open the windows wide all over the house.

¦ Photograph the damage, including the pieces that are completely destroyed or that have to be moved out of the house. A digital camera is ideal.

¦ If you can, gather up portable valuables that have survived and have them stored elsewhere, in either a secure lock-up or with trusted friends and neighbours. The house is now completely insecure. Don’t throw away destroyed pieces you are going to claim on your insurance as they will need to be available for inspection by the insurance company’s loss adjuster. ¦ Don’t start any repair work bar emergency pumping without the approval of your insurance company and don’t inhabit the house until it has been cleaned, disinfected and dried out completely.

Essential telephone numbers in the event of a flooding emergency.

¦ Ambulance/Gardai/Coastguard: 999 or 112.

State your emergency.

¦ For mains water, contact your local authority.

¦ Electricity (all providers as the network is maintained by Electricity Ireland): 1850-372999.

¦ Bord Gais: 1850-205050.

¦ Association of Structural Engineers of Ireland: 01- 6425588. www.aeci.ie.

FLOOD FIGHT

Things to do if you think flood water is coming and are leaving or staying in your house.

¦ Call the emergency services and tell them where you are.

¦ Having checked that routes are open and safe send the family away to a safe location, including young children, pets and anyone with mobility/health issues.

¦ If you are staying, put some waterproofs, long rubber gloves, torches and warm clothing including wellingtons and waders upstairs and ready for use. Check your mobile phone is charged and that any essential medicines are upstairs or with you when you leave.

¦ Move valuables upstairs, including small electrical goods if they can be moved.

¦ Roll up carpets and lift them onto counters if you can’t get them out.

¦ Move heavier furniture (with help) away from the walls to help it ventilate.

¦ Check your garage too as this is also at ground level. Put fuels up on high surfaces. Move your car away from the flood area.

¦ Tie curtains together and put them up over the rail.

¦ Move any pets to safety.

¦ Put some snack type foodstuffs and bottled water upstairs.

¦ Turn off the gas and electricity.

¦ Close the oil tank or gas outlet on any storage vessel.

Empty fuel from the mower into a secure can.

¦ Sandbag the doors and any entry points such as low windows. Throw sandbags over manhole covers outside. If you want to store an alternative to sandbags that inflate with a hydrophilic core, try www.floodgateireland.com for their Floodbags. €100 for 25.

¦ The Office of Public Works (OPW) has an extensive guide to every aspect of dealing with a serious flood event. Visit their dedicated site and read it through paying special attention to their Family Flood Plan. www.flooding.ie.

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