Stay Afloat When Flood Waters Rise

Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States. We may not always think of Lexington as being vulnerable to flooding, but heavy rains can bring floods anywhere. The photo above shows Main Street in July of 1928 – one of the flood events that led the city to cover the Town Branch of Elkhorn Creek in the 1930s.

Be Aware

As with many weather hazards, your first line of defense is awareness. The best way to stay aware is with a NOAA all-hazards weather radio.

When flood conditions are likely or imminent, the National Weather Service will issue an advisory, watch, or warning. Here’s what those messages mean:

If you’re weather aware, these alerts won’t come as a surprise. The National Weather Service issues “Hazardous Weather Outlook” reports as part of its seven-day forecast. Watch for predictions of severe rain or flooding. You also can check the Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service page for the Bluegrass.


Make a plan, build a kit, and get flood insurance.

elevated_houseHome history. Find out if the house or apartment has a history of sewer backups. Call LexCall at 425-2255 for more information.

Get Insurance. Sanitary sewer overflow insurance isn’t usually part of regular homeowners insurance. Check with your insurance company to see if you can add flooding/sewer overflow insurance to your policy.

Have a way out. Know at least two ways to evacuate – preferably along roads that are less flood-prone than your home or workplace. Practice evacuations so everyone knows the way out.

Clean up. Clean and maintain storm drains and gutters. Remove debris that could block water’s free flow.

Elevate. Move valuables and sentimental items to the highest floor of your home or business. Mount utility meters and the main breaker or fuse box above the anticipated flood level. Raise generators and fuel tanks and pumps. If you’re planning to build in a high-risk area, consider a design that elevates the whole structure, as shown to the right.

Stop backflow. Consult a plumber about installing backflow valves in waste lines to keep water (and sewage) flowing in the right direction.

Find your cut-offs. Know how to shut off all your utilities – electricity, water, and gas. Consult our handy guide.

For more information, check out this page from the Red Cross.


Your first priority should always be protecting yourself and your family. Property can be replaced. Lives can’t.

Get out early. Pay attention to your NOAA all-hazards weather radio. If a flood watch is announced for your area, make preparations to leave. If a flood warning is issued, get out!

Turn around – don’t drown. Don’t walk or drive into floodwater. You can’t tell the true depth of the water, nor can you see holes or debris that may be under the surface.

Take the high ground. If you can’t evacuate, move to the top floor, attic, or roof. Be sure you can get out if the water reaches your elevation.

Shut down utilities. Turn off electricity and close gas cut-off valves.

Stay clean. Floodwater is likely to contain waste and chemicals. If you come in contact with it, wash with soap and clean water.


Disinfect what can be salvaged. Wear rubber gloves and boots when cleaning up after a flood. Use a disinfectant to clean anything that has touched overflow water. Be prepared to throw out items that cannot be disinfected, like carpet, carpet padding, matresses, stuffed animals and upholstered items.

home_is_an_islandDocument your losses. Take pictures of any damaged areas before you begin cleanup. This may help with your insurance claim.

Purify your water. Before using any water, filter it to remove particles, then bring it to a rolling boil for at least one minute to kill microorganisms.

Discard contaminated food. Assume food that has come into contact with floodwater is contaminated.

Avoid the spores. Mold can grow quickly after a flood and can cause not only additional property damage but severe health problems. Discard any waterlogged debris that could be a home for mold: carpeting, fabric-covered furniture, sheetrock, towels, clothing. During cleanup, wear gloves, eye protection, and an approved filter mask. For more information, see the Environmental Protection Agency’s page on post-flood cleanup.

Here’s a great resource on food safety – what to keep and what to throw away – from the FDA.

Learn More

Download a brochure from Lexington’s Division of Water Quality for more about sanitary sewer backups and what to do.

To learn more from the weather experts, visit the National Weather Service’s flood safety pages.

Also, see our previous blog posts on flooding.

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