By Brandon Moseley

Last week many areas of Alabama have experienced flooding. The Alabama Extension Service’s Justin Miller has prepared helpful tips about how to recover from flooding.

The Extension Service warned that flooded homes and other structures can be safety hazards.

Allow saturated lawns and gardens to dry out before clean-up efforts begin to help prevent rutting or other damage to the ground.

Once the grounds are dry, begin removing trash, debris, and any uprooted plants from the property. Wear gloves and watertight boots when removing debris. Long pants instead of shorts would be advisable. Be aware that many snakes were flooded out of their burrows so be aware of the possible presence of snakes and other wildlife. Separate the trash and the yard waste and dispose of them appropriately.

Before entering any structure, make sure it is structurally sound. If the building foundation itself is damaged, and/or the building is cracking, no longer square but leaning to one side, or has shifted off its foundation, the building is partly destroyed—missing a wall or partially crushed, or the roofline is out of position; then there are real structural problems and the building may collapse at any time. Get a qualified structural expert to evaluate the situation and do not enter the building.

Once you are sure that a structure is safe to enter, the drying out phase can begin.

Get the water out of the house as quickly as possible. Pump the water out and then use a wet vac and squeegees to get as much water out of the building as possible. The Extension service warns to remove water from a flooded basement carefully over time. Remove just one-third of the water per day from a basement because if the water is removed too quickly, it may cause the basement walls to collapse.

Once all of the water is out of the building will need to be dried out.  Most of the possessions need to be thrown out. That which is saved needs to be dried out.

Floodwater may be contaminated, so it is important to thoroughly clean and disinfect flood-soiled clothing to kill harmful bacteria. Prompt attention may save much of your clothing that has been damaged by floodwaters. If possible, do not let the floodwater and mud dry in shoes or garments.

Clothes salvaged from a flooded home need to be laundered quickly. If the clothing is dry brush off any debris or dirt. Rinse in clean, cool water to remove mud and floodwater. It will take several rinses. Repeat until the water is clear. Use a heavy-duty detergent (liquid or granule). Let it stand for 30 minutes. Follow the care labels and wash the clothing in the hottest water that is safe for the clothing. Sanitize with a disinfectant.

For dry-cleanable clothing, take it to the cleaners as quickly as possible. Brush off the dirt and tell the dry cleaner what happened.

If the clothing is damp, rinse as quickly as possible to avoid the dyes bleeding and to prevent shrinking. Gently squeeze out water and shake out wrinkles. If you roll the damp clothing in dry towels, it will help remove extra water. Place the items on hangers to dry in cool air.

Before you use any dishes, pots, pans, or cooking utensils that have been in contact with floodwaters, be sure to wash and sanitize them. Wash dishes, pots, pans, and utensils in hot, sudsy water. Use a brush, if necessary, to remove dirt. Rinse in clear water. Place the dishes in a wire basket or other container and dip them in a sanitizing solution recommended by local health authorities or use one cup chlorine bleach to one gallon of water, plus nonphosphate detergent for cleaning and disinfecting. Be careful never to mix bleach and ammonia. Do not dry them with a dishcloth. If cupboards and food preparation surfaces were in contact with floodwater, clean and rinse them with a chlorine bleach solution before storing dishes and utensils.

Salvaging furniture that has been underwater is much more challenging. Before attempting, consider the replacement value of the item, the extent of the damage, any sentimental value, and the cost of the restoration work. For antiques it might be worth it, but most furniture is very affordable at flea markets and yard sales.

Flood-damaged carpets and rugs will also be very challenging. If the floodwaters were contaminated with sewage, wall-to-wall carpeting needs to be removed out of these quickly and disposed of. Same with foam-backed rugs. If basement seepage or lawn runoff has covered your carpeting, it can be dried and cleaned. Throw rugs can usually be saved. For some valuable rugs, it may be worth it to let a professional clean them. Most of the time it is not worth the time, effort, and risk. You can save wall-to-wall carpeting that was soaked by clean rainwater, by having it professionally cleaned. If you are going to try it yourself, remove it from the building, replace all the padding, and have the carpets cleaned and reinstalled.

If you can’t remove the carpeting, dry it as quickly as possible to lessen the growth of mildew. If possible, use a wet/dry vacuum system. A dehumidifier can help remove moisture from the air. Keep windows closed when using a dehumidifier.

When drying out a building, fans will greatly increase the evaporation rate if the air is dry. The humidity in Alabama is going to be a problem. Fans need to be used with another method of moisture removal from the air, such as a dehumidifier. Electric space heaters can provide heat for drying. They need to be large enough to adequately warm the air.

Mold is a big issue with flooded buildings. Wet walls must be dried out, or mold will grow inside the walls.

Many landscape plants will appear to be dead after a flooding event. Give the plants two weeks to recover before making any decisions on removal. Some plants­–such as Japanese holly, Indian hawthorn, and nandina–typically won’t survive being underwater.

In vegetable gardens that were submerged in water, both transplants and seeds will probably rot in the ground. They will have to be replanted unless the plants were not completely submerged. The excess rain stresses plants and makes them more susceptible to disease. Avoid working with the plants when they are wet. If disease is found on a plant, remove it and destroy it so other plants will not bed infected. 

This information and more can be found in the Alabama Extension Emergency Handbook. The handbook is accessible online at This report is based on an original release by Justin Miller.