Flood water can contain pollutants and conceal hazards
Torrential rain caused what the Environment Agency is calling a "once in a thousand year" flood in parts of Cumbria.
The authorities - and a charity set up to help flood victims - have given the following advice for anyone affected by the recent deluge.
WHAT TO DO DURING A FLOOD
The Environment Agency - which is responsible for England and Wales - says that in the event of a flood, it is vital to put people before property, co-operate with the emergency services if they tell you to evacuate your home and be prepared to act quickly to get yourself to safety.
In the event of an emergency, the agency urges people take the following precautions:
- Gather essential items together either upstairs or in a high place - have torches, medication and waterproofs to hand
- Fill jugs and saucepans with clean water
- Move your family and pets upstairs or to a high place with a means of escape
- Turn off gas, electricity and water supplies when flood water is about to enter your home, if it is safe to do so
- Do not on any account touch sources of electricity when standing in flood water
- Keep listening to local radio for updates or call the Environment Agency Floodline on 0845 988 1188
- Flood water can rise quickly; stay calm and reassure those around you. Call 999 if you are in danger
The agency adds that it is important to remember flood water is dangerous and you should avoid walking or driving through it and you should wash your hands thoroughly if you touch it. Do not try to unblock drains yourself.
The Environment Agency says that by calling its Floodline, people can select to receive warnings by phone, text, e-mail, fax or pager.
People should also monitor BBC Ceefax page 419 and BBC Red Button page 405 and listen to local radio bulletins.
In some areas the agency also gives flood warnings using sirens - usually a wailing sound only activated when a flood is about to happen. Or it might use loudhailers - a vehicle will drive around repeating the flood warnings.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency flood line is also 0845 988 1188
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO AFTER A FLOOD?
The Environment Agency says the first thing to do is find out if it is safe to return to your property.
It said there might be hidden dangers in the flood water such as sharp objects, raised manhole covers and pollution, and the flooding could have caused structural damage, making a building unsafe.
It is important to phone your buildings and contents insurance company as soon as possible.
People should be prepared for the fact that they might not be able to move back in quickly.
In almost all cases the insurance company will send a loss adjuster to look at your property. They will confirm what repairs and replacements are needed and are covered by your policy.
If you rent your property, contact your landlord and your contents insurance company as soon as possible.
If you do not have insurance, your local council should be able to provide information on hardship grants or charities that might be able to help you.
The National Flood Forum (NFF), a charity which supports flood victims, suggests that you photograph everything - the structure, appliances, furniture and contents, watermarks etc.
If you or your family have had to move out or need to leave the area, the NFF advises that you make realistic decisions.
It says many houses will take six or nine months, or even longer depending on the type of construction, to dry and become habitable.
You may have to live in your house while the loss adjuster arrives and tells you what will happen.
In the meantime make a list of what has been damaged and keep it somewhere safe. If you have a camera (a cheap disposable one will do) or a video camcorder take pictures of everything.
Recover valuables, keepsakes etc and put them somewhere safe. Use rubber gloves when you are handling them and put them in bags or boxes in a safe place. Most articles can be professionally restored so do not make rash decisions.
Your insurance company via your loss adjusters will arrange for a professional cleaning company to come and undertake all of the work or if the damage is severe appoint a 'strip out' contractor to remove flood damaged walls and floors plus damaged goods. This will include kitchen units and all electrical fittings.
CLEARING UP AFTER A FLOOD
When dealing with the aftermath of flooding, the Environment Agency says it is important to remember that flood water can carry hazards such as sewage, chemicals and animal waste.
People should wear waterproof outerwear, including gloves, and wellington boots and a face mask.
If your electricity supply is not already switched off at the mains, get a qualified person to do this - on no account should you touch sources of electricity when standing in flood water.
If you have gas or oil central heating and it has been checked by an engineer, turn it on. Keep the thermostat between 20-22C for steady drying.
You can get water out of your property using a pump and generator. Put the generator outside in the open air as generators produce carbon monoxide fumes, which can kill.
Only pump out water when flood levels outside your property start to be lower than inside. This reduces the risk of structural damage.
Shovel mud away evenly from both sides of a wall. This stops pressure building up on one side. You can clean and disinfect your property using ordinary household products.
A garden hose is useful for washing down. Do not use high-pressure hoses as they blast contaminated matter into the air.
If you are drying your property naturally, keep doors and windows open as much as possible. If using dehumidifiers, close external doors and windows.
Local councils usually provide skips and extra rubbish collections for items that your insurance company has agreed you can throw away.
WHO ELSE CAN HELP?
In England and Wales, the Environment Agency is responsible for building, maintaining and operating flood defences and for issuing flood warnings. In Scotland this role is carried out by local authorities.
The police co-ordinate the emergency services during a major flood and help with evacuation of people from their homes where necessary.
The fire and rescue service is primarily responsible for saving life. They may also pump out floodwater (contact your local service to ask about this, there may be a charge for the service).
Local authorities give local advice about the incident and what to do. They set up rest centres for people evacuated from their homes and arrange temporary shelters or accommodation for people who have nowhere else to go.
Local authorities also deal with road closures and disruption to social services, investigate disruption caused by overflowing drains and sewers, and may provide sandbags and other emergency supplies.
The National Flood Forum is a community-based network of people who have experience of flooding.
It offers advice on where to find flood protection products, specialist help and advice on insurance issues. You can call the NFF on 01299 403055 or visit its website http://www.floodforum.org.uk/