Late on October 29th, 2012, Hurricane Sandy pushed seawater across the 800 yards that separate Long Island Sound from the co-op where my wife and I live. The surge burst through our basement windows and bulkhead door at 10 o’clock at night. The basement filled with floodwater so quickly that if we’d had a sump pump—and if there had been electricity (as a precaution, the city had cut power in flood zones)—the system would have been completely overwhelmed.
The next morning, I went down to the basement, flashlight in hand. The refrigerator was floating on its back, and the dryer had somehow settled atop the washer. The furnace was submerged, paint cans bobbed like apples, and my workbench floated slowly through the murk like a canal barge. Up and down the Eastern Seaboard, there were countless similar scenes, with many thousands of homeowners having experienced far worse than severe basement flooding.
Planning for the next time
The question may not be whether there will be another another Sandy-type flooding disaster, but rather when will it happen? Those who live in flood-prone areas are wise to be prepared. A crucial aspect of readiness is to fully understand the risk level your neighborhood faces. Here, the FEMA Map Service Center proves a valuable resource, not least because it can help you figure out flood insurance details. After all, homeowner’s insurance policies do not cover property loss due to flooding.
Build an emergency kit
Keep the necessities on hand and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Compile your emergency kit now, not in the hours and days prior to a hurricane. Store the following in a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid:
- Water (three gallons per person)
- Food (a three-day supply of nonperishable items)
- Hand-crank radio (or a battery-powered model with extra batteries)
- Flashlight (with extra batteries, if applicable)
- First aid kit
- Whistle to signal for help
- Dust mask
- Plastic sheeting
- Duct tape
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties for personal sanitation
- Wrench or pliers (necessary to turn off utilities)
- Manual can opener (for canned food)
- Local maps
- Cell phone (with solar charger)
Check out ready.gov for additional recommendations. Included are tips for developing a family communication plan that includes where and when loved ones will reunite in the wake of a disaster.
Minimizing the damage
We can’t keep our basement from flooding, but we can control what the floodwater has an opportunity to damage. We didn’t lose anything in the flood that couldn’t be replaced (albeit at significant cost), but my neighbors lost belongings of great sentimental value. Had these things been moved to higher ground, they would have been spared. Lesson learned: Store as little as possible in the basement.
Here’s what else we’ve done or are planning to do shortly:
Raise the appliances
Certain equipment must remain in the basement. With concrete pavers, cinder blocks, or even loose bricks, you can raise the furnace or water heater (or washer and dryer) several inches off the concrete slab or installed flooring. It’s not always as simple as it sounds, however, as basement ceiling heights tend to be low.
Install a check valve
Flooding causes water damage, certainly, but it can also cause sewers to back up, with the result that wastewater rises up through drain lines and empties into basement-located appliances or utility sinks. Prevent such an occurrence by installing a relatively inexpensive and do-it-yourself-friendly check valve.
Set up sump pumps
Although it wouldn’t help in the case of a storm surge, a sump pump can be effective in managing the groundwater that continues to seep slowly into the basement even several days after the fact. After a Sandy-like event, this technology can help you return your house more quickly to healthy working order. In the course of normal flooding, or as a defense against basement moisture resulting from causes unrelated to flooding, sump pumps have shown their value time and again.
Consider a levee
Assuming the storm surge neither reaches too high nor lasts too long—and that you are fit enough to fill and position several hundred sandbags—a levee can effectively keep floodwater at bay. To be successful, consult an engineer; building a levee is not a project to be taken lightly. The subject is too complex to be fairly treated here, but if you’re serious (or merely curious), I recommend watching How to Build a Sandbag Dike and Levee Building to get a grip on the basics.