In an ongoing effort to arm you with important information during hurricane season, this week, Patch has chosen to address flooding.
We scoured websites and talked with city officials. The result is a compilation of facts and tips from the experts including the City of Gulfport’s Principal Planner, FEMA, EPA. Pinellas County and the Centers for Disease Control. We also encourage you post your own tips for surviving a flood.
Although our moniker is “The Sunshine State”, Florida has sustained her share of damage from tropical storms and flash floods. Here are some flood facts:
- even an inch of water can cause damage to property.
- flash floods often bring walls of water 10 - 20 feet high.
- a vehicle can be carried away by two feet of floodwater.
- federal disaster assistance is usually paid back with interest.
- between 2000-2010, flood damage estimates in the United States exceeded exceeded $27 billion.
You can visit www.FloodSmart.gov for more flood facts.
While the risk from damage induced by flooding is high in our state, only about 21 percent of homeowners are protected by flood insurance, according to the National Flood Insurance Program. Created in 1968 by Congress, it provides financial protection from floods.
While one-third of Gulfport residents live in a high-risk area as defined by FEMA, nearly 20 percent of all flood insurance claims originate from moderate or low-risk areas. The City of Gulfport has a map of the high hazard flood zones listed on their website.
From flash floods, to storm surge, to overloaded drainage systems, flooding is a major risk for homeowners. You can actually log on to www.FloodSmart.gov and enter your address to assess your risk.
To plan for potential floods you can:
- develop a disaster kit, discussed in previous stories. Include food, bottled water, prescription medicine, extra batteries and a NOAA approved radio.
- fill out the emergency contact form accompanying this article, and leave a copy with friends and out-of-state contacts.
- create an evacuation plan – develop a route, identify an out-of-state emergency contact. Log on to www.pinellas.org for evacuation routes.
- pack up and seal important papers and mementoes into waterproof containers.
- create an inventory - with video or still images, of your most valuable possessions and assets. Log on to www.knowyourstuff.org, for tips. Attach receipts, if available.
According to Mike Taylor, Principal Planner for the City of Gulfport, most homeowner’s insurance does not cover floods. Because of a 30-day waiting period before a policy becomes effective, he said it’s wise to purchase flood insurance before disaster strikes. It is also important to know that homeowners with federally regulated mortgages are required to purchase flood insurance. Armed with decades of experience working for the City of Gulfport and Pinellas County, violent weather is something Taylor knows all too well.
“It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when a hurricane or a flood will occur,” he cautioned.
That’s why he urges residents to understand the risks. He also said that because Gulfport participates in the Community Rating System, residents are offered a 15 percent incentive discount on flood insurance. In preparation for the traditionally more active portion of hurricane season, Gulfport residents will soon receive an annual hurricane packet that includes information on flood protection and flood zones.
“We do ask that everyone familiarize themselves with their flood zone and evacuation zone, because the two are completely different,” explained Taylor.
There are also several types of flood warnings, so it is advisable to keep your radio tuned to a weather station and have plenty of batteries stored in a watertight pack in case of a power outage. Terminology defined below, may be helpful during the rainy season:
Flood Watch: Flooding is possible. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information.
Flash Flood Watch: Flash flooding is possible, and you should prepare to move to higher ground. Listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information.
Flood Warning: Flooding is occurring, or will occur soon; if advised to evacuate, do so immediately.
Flash Flood Warning: A flash flood is occurring; seek higher ground on foot immediately.
If evacuation is possible or imminent:
- secure your home and if there is time, secure outdoor ornaments and furniture.
- ensure all lights and electrical appliances are unplugged.
- turn off utilities (gas and electric) at the main switches or valves, when news instructions advise.
- do not touch electrical equipment if you are standing in water.
- move valuables and essential items above ground level in your home.
- listen to news reports to learn whether the community’s water supply is safe to drink.
- if you must walk through water, choose standing water. Use a stick to check the stability of the ground.
- avoid floodwaters that may be contaminated by oil, gasoline, or raw sewage.
- be observant! Water may also be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines. If you are uncertain, avoid the risk and always avoid moving water.
- stay away from downed power lines, and report them to the power company.
- have extra cell phone batteries on hand in case there is a power outage.
- go only when authorities indicate it is safe to do so.
- avoid any buildings surrounded by floodwaters.
- use caution when entering buildings, as foundations may be weakened..
- because damaged sewage systems pose serious health hazards, repair damaged septic tanks, cesspools and pits.
- wear gloves and begin cleaning/disinfecting everything that got wet. Mud can contain hazardous sewage and chemicals.
- check out EPA for brochures on clean-up following a flood.
Flood damage: Filing Insurance Claim
If you have been the victim of flood damage, you can file a flood insurance claim by following these steps:
- contact your insurance company and have your policy number/telephone and email address where you can be reached.
- separate damaged and undamaged property, which helps the adjuster evaluate evidence for a repair estimate.
- take photographs of damaged property, including structural damage, standing floodwater and destroyed property.
- create a list of damaged/lost items, including value and receipts, if possible.
When the adjuster provides a Proof of Loss form, file your claim with your insurance company within 60 days of the flood. This document is required for reimbursement by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) or an insurance company.
Flood damage: Mold
Following a flood, you may also detect mold, which can grow on anything from wood, to drywall, carpet, books and food. The Environmental Protection Agency outlines steps you can take to identify and rid your home of mold. It also helps you determine when you might need remediation services. The general rule of thumb is to use that service if damage has occurred to an area greater than 10-square feet,
It is critical to both dry out your home and repair and moisture seepage or large leaks, which can create hospitable environments for mold. In turn, mold can lead to a variety of health issues spanning the range from allergic reactions, to asthma, and respiratory problems. Experts recommend reduction of indoor humidity, through the use of ventilation, air conditioning, de-humidifiers and by using exhaust fans whenever cooking or using a dishwasher. The EPA also recommends:
- cleaning/drying damp building materials and furnishings within 24 - 48 hours.
- removing mold from hard surfaces with water and detergent.
- preventing condensation by adding insulation around pipes.
- do not install carpeting in areas that collect moisture..
The Centers for Disease Control also offers important information on mold and its effect on heath. Those at the greatest risk are people with a compromised immune system (such as cancer patients and the elderly). Mold can be spotted through visual inspection, and often through nasal detection. If you are in doubt, experts recommend removing the item - especially if it is porous.
With so much to think about in our peninsula state and coastal community, it is timely that Gulfport residents are receiving a hurricane packet from the city in the near future. Check out tips on flood zones and overall disaster preparation to ensure your readiness.