Every effort should be made to limit contact with flood water due to potentially elevated levels of contamination associated with raw sewage and other hazardous substances.
EPA and the Department of Health and Human Services urge everyone in contact with flood waters to follow these guidelines:
- Wash your hands before drinking and eating
- Wash frequently using soap — especially disinfecting soap
- Do not smoke
- Limit direct contact with contaminated flood water
- Report cuts or open wounds and limit exposure
- Report all symptoms
- Keep vaccinations current
EPA and HHS recognize that Hurricane Katrina has caused extraordinary circumstances and that people may not currently have access to clean water, vaccinations, doctors, or disinfecting soap. EPA and HHS encourage people in these extraordinary circumstances to adhere to the above guidelines as closely as is possible to limit exposure to possible water contaminants.
The public and emergency response personnel should follow guidelines from federal, state and local health and safety professionals. Early symptoms from exposure to contaminated flood water may include upset stomach, intestinal problems, headache and other flu-like discomfort. Anyone experiencing these and any other problems should immediately seek medical attention.
General precautions to reduce contact with contaminated flood include routine washing with soap, and not eating or drinking while in contact with flood water. These precautions can significantly help reduce potential exposure and illness. Anyone with open-wounds or pre-existing conditions should seek immediate consultation to prevent possible illness.
EPA and HHS will continue to provide more information to the public and responders as it becomes available. Again, the general public and responders should limit exposure to flood water and seek medical attention if they develop symptoms.
Floods are one of the most common hazards in the United States. Flood effects can be local, impacting a neighborhood or community, or very large, affecting entire river basins and multiple states.
However, all floods are not alike. Some floods develop slowly, sometimes over a period of days. But flash floods can develop quickly, sometimes in just a few minutes and without any visible signs of rain. Flash floods often have a dangerous wall of roaring water that carries rocks, mud, and other debris and can sweep away most things in its path. Overland flooding occurs outside a defined river or stream, such as when a levee is breached, but still can be destructive. Flooding can also occur when a dam breaks, producing effects similar to flash floods.
Be aware of flood hazards no matter where you live, but especially if you live in a low-lying area, near water or downstream from a dam. Even very small streams, gullies, creeks, culverts, dry streambeds, or low-lying ground that appear harmless in dry weather can flood. Every state is at risk from this hazard.
Information for Families
- Basic Emergency Supply Kit
- Evacuation Guidelines
- Evacuation tips
- Family Emergency Contacts
- Pets and Emergencies
- A Flood of Emotions
- Caring for important papers
- Hazardous Materials and Flooding Do Not Mix
- Helping Children Through the Flood
- Is Home-Frozen Food Safe to Use
- Salvaging After Flooding
- Salvaging Food After a Flood
Information for Farmers
- Preparing to evacuate your farm
- Flooded Farm Vehicles and Equipment
- Flooded Pesticides
- Protecting livestock during a flood
- Reconditioning Flooded Farm Implements
Information for Homeowners and Renters
- Steps to reduce flood and water damage
- Basements May Flood if Drainage is Poor
- Reduce Flooding from Drains
- Septic Systems and Flooding
- Sump Pump Questions
- Avoiding Groundwater Damage to Homes
- Cleaning and Repairing Flooded Basements
- Dry Out Before Rebuilding
- Drying and Repairing Walls
- First Entry of a Flooded Home – Precautions
- First Entry of a Flooded Home
- Flood-Damaged Furniture and Appliances
- Flood-Damaged Walls, Ceilings, and Floors
- Floods-Drying Out
- How To Make Temporary Structural Repairs
- Restoring Heating Systems After a Flood
- Salvaging After Flooding
- Flooding: Excess Rain and Basements
- Hazardous Materials and Flooding Do Not Mix
Floods, big or small, can have devastating effects on your home and your family. You can take steps to reduce the harm caused by flooding. Learn how to prepare for a flood, stay safe during a flood, and protect your health when you return home after a flood.
Before a flood
- Find out if you are in a flood prone area
- FEMA Flood Hazard Maps: Information on locating Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM), understand how to read them, and requesting a map change.
- Update flood procedures for your family, farm or business (every year)
- Make sure everyone knows the emergency phone numbers, and when to call them.
- Learn the safest route from your home or business to high ground.
- Make arrangements for housing in the event you need to evacuate your home.
- Establish meeting places and phone numbers in case family members are separated by rising flood waters.
- Teach all family members how and when to turn off gas, electricity and water lines.
- Register to receive information from various information sources
- Talk to neighbors and share information on preparedness and previous experiences
- Consider using sand and sandbags to prevent flood damages
- Learn how to use sandbags (176 Kb Acrobat pdf) from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
- Minimize flood damage
- Store valuables at higher elevations (second story, if possible).
- Store household chemicals above flood levels.
- Ensure that underground storage tanks are fully sealed and secure.
- Close storm shutters and sandbag doorways.
- Have check valves installed in building sewer traps to prevent flood waters from backing up in sewer drains.
- Move vehicles and RVs to higher ground.
- Keep emergency supplies on hand: Disaster Supply Kit (FEMA)
- Portable radio, emergency cooking equipment, flashlights, fresh batteries, non-perishable food and drinking water, essential medicines and a first-aid kit.
- Consider purchasing a NOAA Weather Radio
- Take care of chemical products before flood season.
- Keep street drains, storm grates and flap gates free of leaves and other debris.
- Consider buying flood insurance to protect your property. Homeowners’ insurance does not cover flood loss, but most homeowners’ insurance agents also sell flood insurance. Anyone can get flood insurance, even if you are located in an area not mapped as a floodplain, or even if you have never been flooded before. Learn More: FloodSmart.gov
During a flood
- Keep a battery-powered radio tuned to a local station. Follow all emergency instructions.
- If you are caught in your building by rapidly rising waters, call 911 for help. Then move to a higher floor or to the roof. Take warm, weatherproof clothing, a flashlight, a cell phone and a portable radio.
- Do not walk or wade in flooded areas.
- Be prepared to evacuate. If advised to evacuate, do so immediately. Evacuation is much simpler and safer before flood waters become too deep for ordinary vehicles to drive through.
- If you evacuate by car, do not drive where water is over the road or past barricaded road signs.
- If your car stalls in a flooded area, abandon it as soon as possible and walk to safety in the direction you came from.
- Follow recommended evacuation routes, as shortcuts may be blocked.
- When flooding is imminent, but only if time permits:
- Close the main gas valve.
- Turn off all utilities in your building at the main power switch. Do not touch any electrical equipment unless it is in a dry area or you are standing on a piece of dry wood while wearing rubber-soled shoes and rubber gloves.
- Record flood statistics such as time, gage reading, and local flood elevations for use in future home flood forecasting.
After a flood
- Before re-entering your home, check for structural damage that could cause the building to collapse. Be cautious of potential gas leaks, electrical shorts and live wires.
- When re-entering a building, use flashlights, rather than lanterns or candles (in case of gas leaks).
- Have a professional check your heating system, electrical panel, outlets and appliances for safety before using. Call the gas company to have them turn the gas back on.
- Follow disaster preparedness procedures when cleaning a house after a flood.
- Document your losses. Photograph damages and record repair costs.
- Contact your insurance agent for flood loss claims.
- Remove and empty sandbags. Do not dump sand into the river or on its banks. Store it for future use.
- Apply for financial assistance. Only available following a federal disaster declaration. Listen to the radio or television for updates on disaster assistance and registration procedures.