Hurricane season is upon us again, and we in the Panhandle and surrounding areas have already had our first brush with severe weather.  This past weekend, Tropical Storm Collin blew through our area, and while the wind never reached damaging speeds, the rain has caused flooding in many low lying areas.  So what should you do when the water that's supposed to stay outside, finds its way in?

Before you do anything else, make sure your home is safe for you and your family. Even just a small amount of water can cause structural damage, so take a walk around your home, both inside and out, and look for signs of cracking, warping, holes, or loosening of your foundation.  If any of these things are present, contact an inspector or disaster specialist before you re-enter the house; or vacate the property if you rode out the flood at home.  If the water level has gotten over a few inches high, be sure to turn the power off at the breaker box and contact a licensed electrician to clear the home before turning it back on.  There is no structure worth putting your family at risk!

As soon as possible, contact your insurance company!!  Remember that your regular homeowners insurance policy does not cover for rising water, so don't waste time contacting them and filing a claim.  You will need to call your specific flood insurance agent, or the company with which your flood policy is written, to get the ball rolling.  Make sure you keep these phone numbers close to hand in your emergency evacuation kit, just in case you need to leave the area, or power is lost and you're unable to look it up.  Document your call, and get the name of the representative you've spoken to.  Also, make sure you find out if the company would like you to go ahead and start repairing the damage, or if they prefer to send out their own private adjuster to make an assessment first.  Any slight deviation from protocol can delay your claim payout, so ask as many questions as you can to be sure that you understand the process!

Next, document the damage done to your property.  Take photographs of everything, from the water to the damaged walls, furniture, and carpeting.  Make careful notes of all your belongings, down to the smallest detail.  If you remember the cost of your personal items, note that along with a photo.  This serves the dual purpose of helping you to replace the items that may be unsalvagable, and providing irrefutable documentation to the insurance company should the ask for it.  If you still have receipts, attach those as well.  The more proof you have of the losses you've incurred, the better!

Finally, get started on the cleanup process.  Remove any wet items that can't be salvaged as soon as possible and dispose of them.  Use a bleach solution cleaner to spray all affected walls and hard surface flooring to prevent mold growth.  Take any affected soft items like clothing, pillows or blankets to the laundromat to wash and dry thoroughly.  If the damage is more than you feel you can handle, there are many 24 hour disaster response services that will come with their industrial vacuums and get rid of any water, as well as test the drywall for moisture and potential mold.  

Most importantly, remember that while a flood, no matter how minor, is a horrible thing to handle, it's also a temporary situation.  With proper insurance coverage, and thorough cleaning, most homes can be recovered to their previous splendor!