Clean up after flood and storm damage

large machinery and people clearing broken trees and debris near a house after a storm

Lou Sanz

Posted July 08, 2021


If your home has been damaged by storms and or flooding, it can be a complicated and stressful time to figure out the best way to start the cleanup process.

To help you out, we’ve put together a list of 'cleanup' suggestions that might not fix everything but hopefully will give you a pretty good head-start.


Make sure you're OK and ready to return home

If you are forced to leave your home during a storm or flood, it can be a devastating and exhausting experience. The uncertainty around what might have happened to your home and the extent of the damage you might see can leave you feeling anxious and sometimes depressed. If ever there a time to lean on friends and family for support, this is it. It's also good to know that you can call on mental health and crisis support providers in your area if you need them. In some cases, local councils and regional districts make mental health professionals available at community gathering points.

If you feel you're OK to return home, consider leaving children and pets with relatives while you take the time you need to access the damage.

The most important thing during this time is to look after yourself. With the overwhelming nature of major life incidents, it's important to try to still eat well, get as much sleep (as you can) and try and return to a normal routine as soon as possible.  

Check you’ve got the all-clear to return to your property

Depending on the damage caused in the area, it might not be possible to just drive back home. Often roads are blocked, or long detours are in place. Keep the radio on for regular updates, or if you've got access to the internet, check for the same.  

The journey home can often be long and gruelling, so make sure you're stocked up on clean bottled water (as the local water may be contaminated) and snacks. And while you're at it, consider grabbing batteries for torches, refilling any prescriptions medications you might've lost in the flood and filling the tank with petrol in preparation for your return home.
 

person in a white blouse and jeans and boots standing in dirty flood water in a field

A broom and shovel is not going to fix this.


Contact your insurer 

A crucial next step is to contact your insurer, even before you've got the all-clear to enter your home. In times of natural disasters, most insurers have direct lines or methods of communication for their affected customers. Insurance professionals are best placed to advise you of the next steps, including:

  • organising temporary accommodation if needed
  • putting in place emergency make safe arrangements at your home and property
  • sending a building inspector out to assess the damage
  • organising a tradesperson for any repairs, and 
  • guiding you through the claims process

Check your property is safe to enter

Once you've got all clear to head home, that doesn't mean you've got the all-clear to enter your house. If your home has experienced extensive damage,  a building inspector or engineer will need to access the damage - this is something your insurer can talk you through and in some cases arrange. 

Some things to look out for that might not make your home safe to enter are:

  • The absence of walls, floors, ceilings, roofs. If the house looks intact, conduct a quick inspection at a safe distance to if you can see any sagging. Does the roof look like it's going to collapse? Can you hear any creaking noises that might indicate the house or parts of the house's structure might collapse due to the damage? 
  • Can you smell gas? Have some pipes been ripped open or up? 
  • Are there any frayed or exposed electrical wires? Is there a burning or hissing sounds? Can you smell burning?

If the answer is yes to any of the above, it’s time to get a professional in to ensure your safety. 

Record and report the damage

To assist with lodging claims, take as many photos and videos as possible and videos of the damage before touching anything.

Document all damage from where your property starts, including driveways and fences, barns, sheds, even damaged cars, to the home itself.

If it’s not safe to enter the property, don’t worry, the building inspector or engineer will take photos when they go through the property. If it's been  assessed that it is safe to enter, conduct a thorough assessment of any damage to your contents that might be missed in an initial sweep. It's not just damage to the structure of the home you need to document, it's everything in and around your home damaged by the flood and or storm.

Remember, salvage and secure all important documents if you hadn't already done so before you left.
 

hail pelting driveway and road in front of house

Always check to make sure your property is safe to enter after a big storm or flood.


Tips for the cleanup

Important to note: Please seek the advice of your insurance company before proceeding with, or making any clean up arrangments.

  • Safety and hygiene: Water damage can bring bacteria so it pays to be vigilant. Practice good hand hygiene and use disinfectant when cleaning.
  • Wear appropriate clothing: Stick to solid and sturdy water-resistant boots, long pants and long sleeves, gloves, protective glasses (if needed). If outside, don't forget a hat, insect repellent and SPF.
  • Dry out your house (weather permitting): Hose out any mud, dirt, and debris and then if it’s a dry day, open all your door and windows. If it's still wet outside, leave doors and windows ajar. If your electricity or gas is still working turn on your heaters, but monitor the heat level. You want the heaters to help get rid of the moisture, not warp your floors and walls. Don't worry about mould until everything is dry.
  • Be aware of your surroundings: Watch out for snakes, spiders and any other animals that could prove a hazard. If an animal has taken up residence in your home in your absence, call your local wildlife rescue to come and safely relocate it.
  • Check electrical equipment: Water damage doesn’t always make itself known, so it’s best to have an electrician give everything the once over before using again.
  • Determine what is salvageable: Divide things into piles to keep and throw away. If the flooding and damage were widespread, it might be best to get a skip for larger items and garbage bags for smaller items as you work your way through the house.  Heavy furniture like beds, mattresses and couches may also need to be removed if they cannot be saved.
  • Check your walls and floors: Floors, insulation and plaster may need to be removed as damp spaces can lead to the spread of mould and mildew in your home.  It only takes mould about 24 hours to develop and start spreading, so your focus should be removing wet items and drying out your house as soon as possible.

If it’s all too much and it’s something you can afford, there are lots of cleaners around who specialise in post-disaster cleans that you can call in to help. 

How to prepare your home for a storm or flood in the future

 

  • Clean your gutters. Doing this regularly will help prevent blockages and damage.
  • Trim your trees. By keeping your tree branches trimmed, you can decrease your chance of damage in a storm or when there are strong winds.
  • Check your roof. Fix any roof damage, including broken or missing tiles. 
  • Know your cover. Check your insurance cover is current and that your policy provides you with adequate cover. 
  • Have an action plan. Ensure yourself and your family are prepared for an emergency by creating an action plan.
  • Create an emergency kit. Prepare a kit in the event that you have no power or you need to leave your home. Include things like a change of clothes, batteries, torches, bottled water and a first aid kit. 
  • Secure large items. Ensure any large items outside your home (including items on your balcony) that could be damaged or cause damage in a storm are secured or put inside. 
  • Turn on the radio. Listen to your local radio for weather warnings. Make sure you've got batteries on hand so you can operate your radio without power if needed. 
     

 

The information provided is general advice only. Before making any decisions please consider your own circumstances and the Product Disclosure Statement. For copies, visit racv.com.au. As distributor, RACV Insurance Services Pty Ltd AFS Licence No. 230039 receives commission for each policy sold or renewed. Product(s) issued by Insurance Manufacturers of Australia ABN 93 004 208 084 AFS Licence No. 227678.


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