Keeping safe in the aftermath of a flood 

Mar 08, 2022
If it's flooded, forget it. Source: Getty

Keeping safe in the aftermath of a devastating weather event is vital, especially when severe flooding exists. Moving back into your home should be conducted with care to ensure you and others remain safe and away from potential dangers.

We’ve put together a list of advice on the best practices for keeping safe in the aftermath of a flood, including how to navigate outside hazards, structural and household damage and power outages, as well as the hygienic steps to take before consuming and using household food, water and other items that may have been compromised. We’ve also provided an overview of financial and medical services that could be of use to those severely affected by a major flooding event.

We understand that weather events like these can be stressful, emotional, and inherently dangerous and we urge everyone to take the relevant and necessary steps to transition back into everyday-life, safely and with caution.

Outside Hazards & cleaning up 

Outside Hazards are inevitable in the aftermath of a flooding disaster. It is absolutely vital to take care when moving around areas of severe flooding given that flood waters are likely filled with debris, contaminated sewage and other submerged hazards. Always wear hard, closed-in shoes and avoid drains, culverts and high-rise water.

If you are unsure of the depth of the water, use a stick to check it before taking any unnecessary risks, and be sure not to enter water reaching over knee-depth. Upon returning home, be sure to check your house for snakes, spiders, rats and other creatures that might be residing in, underneath, or around your home.

Try to stay away from mud and water as best as you can in the clean-up, and ensure you are taking care with everything that you do to minimise potential injuries. It is recommended that protective gear including boots, gloves and eye protection are also worn during clean-up efforts in flood-affected homes and areas.

Structural & household damage 

Returning home after a major flooding event can be stressful, overwhelming, and dangerous. It’s vitally important to identify any hazards in or around the home that might affect yourself and others, especially when it comes to structural issues that could have developed as a result of water damage to your home. A good rule of thumb is to conduct a structural damage checklist which will help you identify whether your home is safe to occupy.

However, it is important to note that the safest option is to call in a structural engineer to assess the home and potential water damage that may have occurred before determining whether it’s safe to enter. As put together by Buyers Ask, some big picture questions you might ask yourself are, does the house appear to lean or tilt? Are there sections of the house that has broken away or that’s damaged? Has the house shifted partially off the foundation? Does the roof sag or bow in places? Are there any bowed, wavy or damaged walls? Do the ceilings or floors sag? A full list of checklist questions are provided here.

It is recommended that any porous structural materials affected by the flood, such as wood, plastic and rubber are discarded of in the aftermath of the flood. These materials are likely to cause further damage to your home and yourself and others in the likely event that they collapse or break. Any household items you plan to keep and use should be thoroughly disinfected and cleaned before use, especially items such as cutlery and utensils and other sanitary items.

Power Outages 

Upon returning home, you may find that your power supply has been jeopardised. In this case, it is important to turn off all appliances at the powerpoint in the home in the event of a power surge when power returns.

If you are using alternative forms of light such as candles, lighters, etc, it is vital to ensure they remain away from any flammable materials or objects in the home, and that they are frequently regulated. If you are using a generator, ensure all the appropriate safety and mechanical steps are taken to ensure safe generation of power and be sure not to use an electricity generator indoors. All flood-affected gas and electronic appliances including gas bottles should be inspected by a qualified technician before use.

Compromised water systems 

A common occurrence with heavy flooding is the issue of water contamination. If water supply in you area has been compromised, it is important to take the relevant steps necessary to ensure you have safe drinking water at the ready when required.

It is essential to fully boil any water you use from household taps etc. to ensure any present contaminants are taken care of. After the water is safely boiled, pour it into a clean hard-plastic or glass container and refrigerate until the water is cool enough to consume.

In the likely case that you’re power is out and you are unable to boil water, a very small amount of household bleach (containing 4%-5% chlorine) can be used to disinfect the water in a a ratio of 2 drops of bleach to 1 litre of water unless the water is cloudy, in this case add 4 drops.

Mix thoroughly and let the water sit for 30 minutes before consumption. According to NSW Health, it is essential to have any “flood-affected electrical, gas and water supplies and appliances inspected by a qualified technician before use.” Appliances such as dishwashers should also be professionally inspected before use if they were exposed to flood waters.

Food safety 

Another important consideration is to assume your fridges and freezers may have lost power during the flood. It is important to check whether the items in your fridge and freezer may have defrosted or gone rancid during a potential power outage.

To be safe, it would be best practice to throw out any meat and dairy products to avoid the possibility of contamination. If flood water has come in contact with any other food items in the home including dry foods, the contaminated foods will also need to be thrown out. Sealed, unopened jars of food are likely not to be affected, but be sure to check them upon consumption nonetheless.

Financial and medical support 

There are a number of institutions and services available to those affected by the devastating impacts of a major flood. Whether you are in need of financial or medical support, there will likely be a way for you to access the relevant support.

Each state in Australia will likely have their own recovery services available to victims of a flooding disaster or other natural disaster. As a result of the recent flood disaster in Queensland, The Australian Government now offers a Disaster Recovery Payment for people seriously affected by the floods. They also offer a Disaster Recovery Allowance for those who lost income as a result of the floods. Institutions such as Centrelink offer medical payments for people seeking health care in the event of serious injury or illness. A number of other grants are also available from the Government, including a structural assistance grant, essential household contents grant, emergency hardship assistance grant, essential hardships assistance grant, essential services safety and reconnection grant and transport and motoring assistance – any of which may be of use in your given situation.

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