Returning to Flood-Damaged Areas

Use caution when entering buildings after a disaster

Flooding can cause tremendous damage to ministry and school buildings. Before jumping in to clean up the mess, take steps to avoid getting hurt.

If you haven't done so already, your first step is to contact your insurance agent. He or she can help you begin the claims process. Be prepared to provide contact information and your policy number. You'll also want to file a flood claim immediately if your buildings are insured by the National Flood Insurance Program.

Investigate additional help that your ministry or its members may be eligible to receive through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the American Red Cross, and other disaster relief organizations. Then, proceed the disaster recovery process with caution, asking professionals to handle jobs that are beyond the ability of your staff or volunteers.

Ensure Safety Before Cleanup Begins

Take steps to ensure the safety of yourself and other workers. Structural, electrical, or other hazards could cause injury if your building was submerged. Here are some task to complete before you start repairs or cleaning:

  • Inspect the outside of the building. Look for downed power lines, cracks in the walls or foundation, missing roof supports, standing water, or other signs that the structure may be unsafe. Report downed power lines to the utility company and stay clear of them. If you find building damage, ask a contractor or building inspector to check it out before allowing anyone to enter.
  • Check for gas leaks. If you smell natural gas, don’t go inside. Call the gas company and close the gas valve if it’s located outside.
  • Enter with caution. As you go inside, watch for sagging ceilings. They may be holding water and more likely to collapse.
  • Watch your step. Mud and water make floors slippery and may hide holes, nails, and other hazards.
  • Be alert for animals. Snakes and other wild animals may have taken shelter in your church. Keep an eye out and, if necessary, scare them off with a stick as you explore the building’s interior.
  • Avoid air conditioning. After electricity has been restored, do not turn on the heating or air conditioning until flooded duct work has been cleaned. Mud from floodwaters could spew contaminated air into the building, creating a health hazard.
  • Take pictures. Take extensive photographs of damaged buildings and their contents for insurance purposes before cleanup begins. 

Once these steps have been performed and you determine the structure is safe, it’s time to start cleaning and repairing.

Dry Your Building

If floodwater has entered your building, start by drying out the building. Depending on how much your building is flooded, you may have to take several of these steps:

  • If you find a sagging ceiling, stand away from it and poke a hole near its edge with a pencil or sharp stick. This allows trapped water to drain. After the dripping stops, poke another hole closer to the center of the sag. Continue this process until all water drains from the sag.
  • Drain the basement. If your basement is filled substantially, do not drain all at once. The pressure from the water in the ground may be enough to collapse the walls. Experts recommend that you drain one-third of the water and let it sit overnight. Continue this process until the basement is fully drained.
  • Open doors, closets, crawl spaces, and vents to air out the building. Place moisture-absorbent materials, such as clay-based cat litter or chemical dehumidifier packs, in smaller areas that lack vents.
  • Use fans to promote air circulation. Industrial carpet fans may be available to rent.
  • Place a tarp over any exposed areas to prevent further rain damage.

While drying your building, check for areas that could become—or already are—riddled with mold or mildew. Things that could get moldy include soaked wallboard, fiberglass insulation, cellulose insulation, and carpet. If any of these are muddy, they should be discarded. 

Clean Up

After drying the building, the next step is to clean. If you find that you have no cleaning supplies, your local Red Cross chapter will usually distribute cleanup kits after a disaster. These kits have the necessities (brooms, mops, buckets, gloves, cleaner, etc.) and can provide for any cleaning job you have when used properly.

You may feel overwhelmed by the amount of cleaning that is needed, so work through one room at a time. The American Red Cross suggests that when cleaning you use a “two bucket” approach. Use one bucket for cleaner, and the other for rinse water. This will extend the use of your cleaner by keeping out dirty rinse water.

Flood-proof Your Ministry

During recovery, think about what you can do to prepare your ministry for another disaster. The American Red Cross suggests that you implement any flood-proofing steps while you rebuild to reduce the overall cost and will help prevent your building from taking considerable damage again.

Check out the American Red Cross's Flood Safety page to learn what you can do before, during, and after a flood. The material addresses homeowners, but much of it can be applied to ministries, as well. 

Learn how to strengthen your ministry's defenses against the next flood at, a service of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS). The IBHS turns research and insights into actions you can take to reduce costs associated with weather-related losses.