Dangerous Floods in History

The top five deadliest floods in world history occurred when the Huang He (Yellow) River in China exceeded its banks. The yellow silt that provoked the river’s name can pile up higher than the land around it, causing the water to spill out of its causeway and onto the flat land surrounding it. Natural ice dams add to the problem. In an effort to control the damage, the Chinese government has built channels, dams and dikes to moderate the flow.

The deadliest flood came in 1931, when between 1 and 4 million people were killed. Thirty-four thousand square miles (88,000 sq km) of land were flooded, leaving 80 million people without homes. In 1887, natural flooding claimed between 1 and 2 million lives.

Strategic military flooding of the river top the third and fourth deadliest spots. In 1642, approximately 300,000 people died to flooding, famine, and plague when the Ming governor of Kaifeng ordered his men to break dikes along the river in an attempt to drown rebels assaulting his city. In 1938, the river was again used as a defensive weapon to halt the advance of invading Japanese troops, killing nearly a million people.

The worst dam collapse in history occurred in 1975, when significant rainfall following a typhoon assaulted the Banqiao dam on the Ru River in China. Almost 4 feet of rain poured down in a single day. A smaller dam upstream broke, sending a wall of water rushing downstream. A total of 62 dams failed in the incident, with walls of water between 10 and 20 feet high pouring onto the plains below. In an effort to control the flooding, some dams were deliberately destroyed with hopes of relieving some of the pressure. Approximately 230,000 people were killed.

Although China takes a frequent beating from flooding, the Netherlands also boast a number of deadly floods in its history. High tides and storms were responsible for the deaths of approximately 100,000 people in the Netherlands and England in 1099. A violent weather pattern known as a “Great Storm” created a storm tide in 1287 that broke a dike and killed up to 80,000 people. The same storm killed people in England. In 1421, the tenth deadliest flood in the world occurred when storms caused dikes to collapse. Water flowed across the lowlands, killing nearly 10,000.

The deadliest natural disaster in American history was the Hurricane of 1900 in Galveston, Texas. The Category 4 storm killed over 6,000 people, with most official reports citing closer to 8,000 dead. Storm surge killed many on trains attempting to evacuate the city. Floodwaters destroyed bridges and telegraph lines, keeping those outside of the city from realizing the extent of the damage for some time.

In fact, storm surge deaths caused by hurricanes dominate the list of flood dangers in the United States. These include the second most dangerous storm, the Okeechobee Hurricane in 1928, which caused over 2,500 deaths. In contrast, Hurricane Katrina claimed fewer than 2,000 lives.

Other dangerous incidents of flooding include a 1972 dam failure in Buffalo Creek, West Virginia. The dam, declared “satisfactory” only four days before the disaster, set off a chain reaction, as pressure from first broken dam caused a second to burst, and then a third. More than 132 million gallons of water were released, claiming 125 lives while injuring more than 1,100 people. Almost all 5,000 of the residents downstream were left homeless.

A 1976 flash flood in Colorado’s Big Thompson Canyon after excessive rainfall created powerful water that ultimately killed 144 people and resulted in almost $40 million in damages. Waters reached speeds of more than 30 feet per second, moving 250-ton boulders with their powerful currants.

In the Great Flood of 1993, excessive rainfall in the Mississippi River basin caused significant flooding that did $20 billion in damages over a period of several months.

Generator Safety Tips

Whether it’s a hurricane or a routine power outage, navigating a dark house is never fun. That’s why many people choose to install backup generators in their homes. A backup generator can power your home until regular electricity resumes.  This also proves useful for powering sump pumps during heavy rains which can result in major flooding and water damage.

While backup generators can come in handy in a pinch, owners should know the right way to install and maintain them. Knowing what to do can help reduce risks like fire, electrical damage, injuries and more. Here are nine things to do now if you have (or will soon have) a backup generator.

  1. Review your local laws. Depending on your state, you may be responsible for making sure your generator’s current doesn’t feed back into power lines. (Learn why this matters below in number eight.) You might also be required to give local utility companies a head’s up about your generator.
  2. Keep the surrounding area clear. Backup generators give off a lot of heat. Help prevent a fire by keeping any items far away from it
  3. Check the ventilation. This one is best left to the pros during the installation. If your generator doesn’t have enough room to properly ventilate, dangerous carbon monoxide can build up.
  4. Invest in a carbon monoxide detector. Speaking of carbon monoxide, you’ll definitely want to invest in a carbon monoxide detector if you have a backup generator. It will warn you if levels are rising so—a good thing, since carbon monoxide poisoning can be fatal.
  5. Keep it dry. Wet conditions can lead to short circuits—and that could lead to a generator fire. For this reason, keep your generator in a dry place. An open-canopy structure can help protect it if you’re worried about water.
  6. Stash a fire extinguisher close by. Consider it an added precaution in case a fire was to break out. (Check out this handy fire extinguisher guide before you buy.)
  7. Corral the cords. Cords should be out of any foot paths, yet still easy to access. You’ll want to check them regularly to see if they’re frayed or cut—both types of damage could cause a fire.
  8. Say no to wall outlets. Plugging your generator into a wall outlet is known as “back feeding,” and it’s a bad idea. That’s because the low voltage from the generator can increase to thousands of volts when it passes through a utility transformer. And that could put you and utility workers at serious risk. Instead, plug your generator into a manual transfer switch that distributes power in a safer manner.
  9. Hand off. Backup generators heat up fast. Protect yourself from potential skin burns by putting on protective gear before touching your backup generator.

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The Backup Differences

Storm Water Backing Up

In many older houses with basements (mostly pre-1980), there is a perimeter foundation drain outside the exterior wall, at the level of the basement floor, next to the footings at the time the house was built. A pipe was usually installed from the perimeter foundation drain to the street where it was connected to the city storm sewer system.

This can become a problem as the city storm sewer system becomes too small when more development causes more rain runoff. When this happens, the rainwater in the sewer system can get so high that water flows backwards toward the house.

Usually, the installation of an interior perimeter basement drain system connected to a sump pump will take care of the problem. If it doesn’t, the (more expensive) alternative is to dig up and cap the pipe that is running from the house to the street from the perimeter foundation drain. However, this is not always possible; many times, this pipe is also draining sanitary waste from toilets and sinks in the house.

Sewer Water Back Up

If the water is coming up through floor drains or sink drains in the basement, then the problem is often water backing up from the municipal sanitary sewer system. During heavy rains, combined sewer systems can become overwhelmed with water. This can cause sewer water to back up in the system and sometimes into homes.

There are other possible explanations, too. Sewer backups can be caused by individual service lines being plugged by grease, waste, tree roots, breaks in pipes or saturated ground. Sewer mains can also be plugged by vandalism or large items dropped down manholes. This kind of flooding is an enormous problem for homeowners, as it’s largely out of your control and probably means fecal waste backing up into basements. Not only is it disgusting, but it can also be a serious health hazard.

In order to keep your individual lines clear, you can install backflow preventers that help stop sewer water from flowing backward into the house. Proper maintenance of your individual lines – for example, pouring tree root killer down your toilets once a year – can also go a long way in preventing sewage backups. Still, the problem is often out of your control. Sewage in your basement means a major cleanup and a lot of uncertainty about future problems. If it’s something you’ve seen in your home, you’ll have to get your city government involved. At the very least, be aware of the problem and don’t leave anything valuable near your downstairs drains.

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Checking For Water Damage

Your home protects you from the elements, but heavy rains can weaken that protection. With a little maintenance and a lot of vigilance, it’s not hard to stay safe and dry.

Spring rainstorms are a fact of life in many areas of the country, and they help keep things green, even if they keep you inside. But when they get heavy, it’s time to start thinking about the potential impact all that water has on your home. The first step is finding and fixing any immediate problems as soon as it’s safe to do so. Then, you’ll want to take measures to prevent those problems from happening during the next downpour!

Where is all that rain going?
Your roof and gutters form a key line of defense for your home – and in a storm, they’re vulnerable, because so many things can damage them. Trees, hail, and other objects can create weaknesses that might lead to leaks in your roof, so check for missing shingles and other issues. And keep your gutters clear so all that water drains properly.

Are you checking everywhere?
Water dripping from the ceiling is hard to miss. Water in your crawl space, however, can easily go undetected because hardly anyone ever checks there. Don’t forget to look down there after a storm (or have a professional do it) to make sure everything is nice and dry. If you do see moisture, you’ll want to get it out with a sump pump as soon as possible.

And don’t just look up – another place to check is your home’s exterior, whether it’s siding, brick, or another material. Weak spots can be hard to see, so look at various times of the day in different lighting conditions.

Of course, you’ll want to make sure your doors and windows are properly sealed to keep the elements out, too.

What about around your property?
Storm water has to go somewhere, and if your property doesn’t drain well, or if runoff goes toward your foundation, you could have problems. So watch for patterns, and grade property so it drains away from your home if possible. Always be wary of hillsides and tilting trees after heavy storms, because the land might not be stable.

And don’t forget to keep storm drains clear of leaves and other debris. This can prevent flooding both on the streets and your own property.

What should you do during the storm?
During powerful storms, stay inside. This is not the time to check your roof, your exterior, or your property unless there’s an emergency and you know it’s safe to go out. Monitor your interior, making sure no water is getting in. If it is, do what you can to alleviate the situation in the moment, even if it means just placing something under a leak to collect the water. For more serious problems, though, remember that safety is the most important thing. If your basement is flooding, for example, don’t go down there – you could be trapped and even drown.

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Equipment Upkeep

In the mold remediation and water damage restoration business, there’s many pieces of equipment that are vital to completing a job.  Mold Remediation will use equipment like Air Machines, (Scrubbers and Negative Air), HEPA vacuums, Fog machines etc.  While Water Damage Restoration will use equipment such as Turbo Fans, Axial Fans, Dehumidifiers and more.  So why is this important for a home owner to know?  Because without the proper upkeep of this equipment, your home or business could be subject to cross contamination, improper removal of mold, and structures that aren’t dried correctly.  Many companies new and old alike, will buy used equipment from large franchise outfits that have already used them for several thousand hours.  One location will purchase the equipment, and then sell it to a newer franchise and so on, before it’s finally dumped back into the market, where smaller companies purchase them for pennies on the dollar.  These machines have been used for several years and can log up to thirty thousand hours of use or more, and now are being brought to your home.  Is this always a bad thing?  Not necessarily.  But the chance that these pieces of equipment have been maintained properly throughout the years is very minimal.  Which brings us to another point.

Many companies even with newer equipment, do not maintain them properly.  It is completely fine for a home or business owner to inspect the equipment being used.  For air machines, new filters should be visible for each job.  Contractors who arrive to a job with dirty filters are already risking cross contamination by just introducing that machine into the home even before turning it on.  All equipment should be clean and free from dirt or soot, while fans and dehumidifiers should also be pushing out the appropriate amount of air.  When fans are nearing the end of their life cycle, they’ll tend to make a lot of noise, push out a minimal amount of air and drain your electric.  You can always get a hint of the caliber of contractor you’ve hired from the type of equipment being used and how well it’s maintained.  If they can’t maintain their own equipment, how could they do a good job in your home?

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What Can Happen

Ignoring the importance of regular maintenance to your gutters and roof could eventually lead to several thousand dollars worth of interior damage.  This damage could result in mold growth, and structural issues within the home.  As seen in the pictures below, a clogged gutter, (filled with just leaves), resulted in severe interior water damage and mold growth, while also compromising the sheathing.  The drywall and insulation needed to be removed, the sheathing had to be treated and the interior was structurally dried, all because of poor maintenance.  Remember, the coming of summer doesn’t just mean a change of weather.  It also is a reminder of several household maintenance items that should be addressed.

Wood Rot Situations

In situations where customers call us in regards to water damage on a wall, that later reveals extensive wood rot from the interior, they’re now dealt with a much more serious issue than they ever thought.  As an example, we completed a water damage restoration job in a back bedroom of a row home in Center City Philadelphia.  The home was only a few years old, and the rear was comprised of stucco.  When the initial cut was made into the drywall, the rot was so bad that we could see the stucco from the interior of the room.  This resulted in not only an extensive mold job, but also forced the customer to have the stucco completely pulled down and replaced, since it wasn’t properly installed by the builder.

In another example, we did a home where the siding was improperly installed and the same situation and result came about.  So what can you do?  If you’re a new home owner purchasing a brand new construction home, don’t get fooled into thinking that you’re not susceptible to these kinds of damages just because your home is “brand new.” Remember, a home built in the 1920’s was built out of stone and brick and meant to last. Most new construction homes today are built of wood and other cheap products and are meant to be a profit.

Another tip, is not to ignore an issue and allow it to fester into a major one.  This is something I continually preach.  Small water damage or mold growth problems will eventually become huge issues if left untreated and completely ignored.  And if you’re planning on remodeling or upgrading, a lot of these issues start with poor choices of contractors, so it’s vital that your vetting process is very thorough.

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