In South Australia, floods can occur at any time of the year. Flooding can be caused by rivers, storm water or coastal inundation. Flash flooding, the rapid onset of flooding caused by intense rainfall, is often difficult to forecast and can occur without warning.
The SA State Emergency Service (SES) is the primary provider of flood rescue services across the state.
Types of flooding
- Run-off from rivers and dams - flooding happens when river systems carry more water than usual, following heavy rain.
- Urban drainage - flash-flooding occurs when drainage systems fail after short, intense bursts of rain during a severe storm.
- Seawater flooding - coastal areas may be flooded when a severe storm causes a surge of sea water.
- Tidal flooding - flooding occurs when high tides coincide with higher than normal river levels.
Floods can pose a serious threat to life, with people often swept away after entering floodwaters on foot or in vehicles. Floods can result in significant property damage and major social disruption. They are a serious problem in urban areas where drainage systems are often unable to cope with large amounts of water in a short time.
The health of people and animals can also be affected by floodwaters that are contaminated with chemicals or sewage.
Planning and knowing what to do during a flood will help you avoid making last minute decisions that could prove fatal. As part of your preparation you should:
- understand your risks from a flood
- develop and maintain an emergency plan with household members
- have an emergency kit
- think about your emotional and physical preparation
- think about looking after others
- prepare your home and property - sandbagging and moving items to higher ground
- prepare your vehicle
- think about sheltering in or leaving your home
- know how the flood emergency system works
- learn what to do during and after a flood.
There are some important things you need to do during a flood to keep you and your family safe.
Be aware of the current conditions. You should:
- keep listening to your local ABC radio station
- keep checking the
Alert SAor SES websites or follow the SES on Twitter for flood and storm updates
- check SA Police road closures
- check Department of Transport for outback road closures and warnings
- keep an eye out to see what is happening in your immediate surroundings - eg a river may be rising, the rain is heavy and hasn't eased.
When emergency services issue an evacuation order or if you decide to leave your home voluntarily:
- follow instructions given to you by emergency services
- follow your emergency plan, adding last-minute items to your emergency kit and getting your vehicle ready
- shut off household utilities
- make sure you let your emergency contacts know when you're leaving and where you are going
- take your pets with you.
For emergencies call Triple Zero (000) or phone the SES storm and flood response on 132 500.
Stay away from floodwater
Don't drive, ride, boat, walk, play or swim in floodwater.
The majority of flood-related deaths in Australia are due to people entering floodwater. People and vehicles can be swept away in
Floodwater can be contaminated by sewage or toxic chemicals.
Floodwater can contain submerged objects and debris that can cause injuries.
There are a number of things that you should do when returning home and cleaning up after a flood. The following information may assist you in your recovery.
Don't return home until the authorities advise you it's safe to do so.
Preparing to return home
Stay tuned to your local ABC radio station. Heed any warnings and check regularly for updates as information may change quickly.
Anticipate what it might be like returning home.
Prepare for the fact that your property may be damaged or destroyed and the power may be off.
After a flood the local environment may have changed drastically including:
- buildings, trees and vehicles washed away
- foul smelling, stagnant water and mould
- areas covered in floodwater
- dead animals.
For safety reasons consider if all the family, especially children, need to return home right away.
Check with SA Power Networks if your power is turned off - current power interruptions online or phone 13 13 66.
Fill up your vehicle with fuel.
Withdraw cash, as ATMs may not work or banks may be closed in your area.
If you don't have your emergency kit and supplies with you, or if you think they have been damaged or destroyed, stock up with essentials including:
- fully charged mobile phone
- camera and notebook to record damage for insurance purposes
- cleaning up items
- protective clothing
- torch and batteries
- non-perishable food
- bottled water
Let your emergency contact know that you are returning home and what time you expect to get there.
On the way home
In your car, stay tuned to your local ABC radio station. Heed any warnings and check regularly for updates as information may change quickly.
Don't hurry, as road conditions may have changed and closures may be in place.
Watch out for hazards, - eg downed powerlines, fallen trees, water on roads, livestock and wildlife on roads.
Be aware of damaged or weakened structures including bridges and roads.
Watch out for emergency services personnel and support workers who may still be in the area.
Wear as much protective clothing as possible to avoid contact with contaminated surfaces, water and soil from floodwater.
Your protective clothing kit should include:
- disposable, heavy-duty work gloves or rubber gloves
- sturdy, enclosed footwear that can be easily washed - eg rubber boots or rubber soled shoes
- long-sleeve shirts and trousers
- safety goggles or protective glasses.
Avoid spreading contamination by removing protective clothing before entering areas that have already been disinfected. Wash clothes, footwear and goggles in hot soapy water and dispose of gloves in garbage bags. Wash your hands thoroughly.
This advice does not apply to the clean-up or removal of asbestos. Refer to www.asbestos.sa.gov.au.
Home assessment and rebuilding
You will need to assess the state of your home to work out if you can move back in.
Any building work should be carried out by a licensed builder or demolition contractor. If your home contains asbestos you may need to engage a licensed asbestos removalist.
Once your home has been assessed by the builder, contact your insurance company to work out an action plan.
Think about how you can protect your home from future floods when planning repairs and rebuilding. Assess the flood risk to your home and make building decisions that reduce the impact of a flood.
Flood awareness map - Water Connect website.
Flood environmental health issues
If your home has been damaged and water is lying around you will need to be careful when you return. This section contains advice and possible risks to look out for.
Don't enter your home until told that it is safe to do so.
Where possible, try to avoid taking children onto flood-damaged properties. If you do, make sure they remain protected at all times. Don't let children play in or near floodwater.
When looking around your property or moving items, be careful to avoid injury from sharp and heavy objects including glass shards, nails, corrugated iron and rubble.
If you smell gas or hear a hissing noise, turn the gas off at your meter or LPG cylinder.
If the problem persists, or you cannot find the meter, move away immediately and phone your gas supplier. Don't enter any buildings.
Don't smoke or use open flames when moving about your property as escaping gas may have collected in pockets of the building.
Any work on gas appliances and pipes must be carried out by a licensed gas fitter.
Indoors or out, under flooded conditions treat every electrical item as dangerous.
Don't turn on lights, power-points or electrical appliances. Every portion of your electrical system that has been covered in water or mud may cause electrocution and must be checked by a qualified electrician before it is used.
If you're on foot in a flooded area, look out for broken electrical wires or evidence of arcing.
You can get a serious electric shock from water in which there is energised metal or wood – eg a wire, pole or fallen tree, partly or totally submerged
Always assume that fallen powerlines are still live and, under no circumstances touch or move them. Don't touch anything that is in contact with them, such as a vehicle or a building.
Contact SA Power Networks on 13 13 66 to advise them of fallen powerlines.
Floodwater can be contaminated by:
- sewage from overflowing sewers or septic systems
- agricultural or industrial wastes and chemicals.
To be on the safe side, treat all items exposed to flood waters as contaminated. Make sure that you:
- don't drink water or eat food until you are sure that it's safe
- stay away from drains, culverts and water that is knee-deep or higher
- try to avoid contact with mud and dirt
- wash your hands with soap and water before handling food, and after handling pets that may have been in contact with water or soil
- wear protective clothing.
If structures were built before 1988 they may contain asbestos cement sheeting. Care should be taken when cleaning up asbestos materials after a flood.
For information on the safe handling of asbestos:
- visit the Asbestos SA website - working safely with asbestos, how to remove it, where to put it, who to contact
- SA Health - phone 8226 7100
- SafeWork SA help centre - phone 1300 365 255.
Carbon monoxide poisoning
Petrol or diesel-powered generators are often used when there is a power outage. Use them with extreme caution as they can cause carbon monoxide poisoning when used in confined spaces.
Only run generators in a well-ventilated outdoor area away from open windows and vents.
Damaged chemical and fuel containers
Damaged or split containers may pose a safety risk.
Hazardous household materials that may be present after the flood include garden or farm chemicals, cleaning products and pool chlorine.
Chemical safety - Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) website.
Do not use appliances that have been exposed to water, covered with mud or damaged until you have a qualified electrician check them. Do not attempt to check them yourself.
Medicines, raw food or food in packaging - eg cardboard, plastic tubs, screw-topped jars and bottles, in direct contact with contaminated floodwater should be thrown out.
Power outages can also leave refrigerated food unsafe to eat.
Household mould - SA Health website
Mould and dampness - WA Health website.
Try to keep dry. Being wet and cold for any length of time can lead to hypothermia which can be life-threatening.
Hypothermia - Vic Health website.
Mosquito numbers normally increase after a flood. Mosquitoes can spread serious diseases. Make sure you:
- cover-up with long sleeve shirts and trousers
- use insect repellent
- clean-up standing water lying around the house.
Mosquitoes - SA Health website.
Septic tanks and sewers
Sewage contains disease-causing germs and parasites that can make people sick.
If septic tanks or sewers have leaked, stay away from the area until the problem has been fixed.
If you have a sewer or septic leak on your property, call a licensed plumber. If the sewerage problem is with SA Water call the customer service centre on 1300 883 121 or visit the SA Water website.
For further information, refer to the Australian Government Department of Health manual on Sewage system management.
Be aware that lids of buried septic tank systems may have collapsed or moved. Be careful where you walk or drive your vehicle. Isolate the area where lids are absent.
Buildings and other structures like water tanks and fences may be unstable and could collapse.
Take care when entering buildings. Your home may not be structurally sound. The roof, ceilings and walls can give way without warning. Floors or stairs may not be as stable as they appear.
Signs of serious damage include:
- changes in appearance of the roof
- buckling of walls
- new cracks in walls and floors
- bulging or dislodged sections of the building
- deep scouring that has exposed foundations and footings and damaged tie-downs.
If you are unsure, seek advice from a building inspector or engineer before attempting to enter the property.
Check with your local council or insurance company who may be able to help.
When you do enter take care. Watch out for loose floor boards, protruding nails and sagging ceilings.
Trees that are water-logged or have been in floodwater or subjected to strong current, can fall without warning.
Take care in the vicinity of trees, especially in high winds or in continuing wet conditions.
If you are concerned about a tree near your house, a qualified arborist will be able to determine whether it poses a safety risk.
Under the Native Vegetation Act 1991 native trees can only be removed in certain circumstances, refer to Native tree removal on the Department of Environment website.
Using hired equipment or machinery
As part of the cleaning up process you may be required to use equipment that you are not familiar with. Make sure you get an induction from the owner of the equipment, or someone that is competent in its use.
You should consider if there are any hazards in the area you are cleaning-up including:
- electrical services overhead
- electrical and gas services underground
- unstable ground and debris
- ground slope too steep to safely operate equipment
- tripping hazards
- not enough space to work or manoeuvre
- will the activity give rise to other risks - eg collapse of structures, trees falling, rollover of equipment?
Make sure that other people aren't at risk from the activity. Keep children away from the work area.
Wild animals including rodents, snakes and spiders may have sheltered in and around your home. Use a pole or stick to turn items over and be careful when opening drawers and cupboards.
After a flood, buildings and possessions may be water damaged.
What you can salvage depends on the amount of damage and the time and effort needed in the restoration process. Concentrate your salvage effort on material of high value. Damaged material that can be easily replaced can often be thrown away.
Before you start cleaning up check with your insurance company about what records need to be kept to make your claim and if cleaning expenses are covered by your policy.
Insurance companies will usually want to assess damage before any repairs are done. Many will also want to approve the repairer you are using.
It's important to start drying out your home as soon as possible. Even though it may take weeks, even months to completely dry out your home there are many things you can do straight away.
Here are some tips to help you in the restoration and cleaning up process.
Discard mattresses soaked with flood water as they are generally to damaged to be used again.
You can wash feather and foam rubber pillows but you will need to throw out those stuffed with kapok or cotton.
Clothing and linens
Clothing and linens can often be restored after a flood.
Check the labels on clothes and linens and if possible without damaging items, clean using the following instructions:
- brush or shake off as much mud and dirt as possible
- rinse repeatedly in lukewarm water to remove dirt
- for the final wash use warm or hot water and add disinfectant (pine oil cleaners can be used for items that can’t be bleached)
- dry as normal either outdoors or in a dryer.
Dry clean only items should be dried slowly at room temperature away from direct sunlight, then shake off dirt and send to the dry cleaners.
Wipe leather goods with a damp cloth, then a dry cloth.
Rinse leather or suede jackets in cold water and dry them away from the heat and sun.
Do not use any appliances until you have had the power supply and each appliance checked by a qualified electrician. Refrigerators and freezers may have foam insulation and sealed components and should be also checked by a service technician.
Clean and disinfect dishwashers, washing machines, dryers, refrigerators, freezers and vacuum cleaners prior to use. Make sure the sewer line is working before starting a dishwasher or washing machine.
Clean out water and mud from air conditioning and heating ducts and vents and replace filters.
Dry electric blankets on a clothesline and gently stretch into the original shape.
Furniture should be dried outside and away from direct sunlight to prevent warping or fading.
You can usually repair and clean swollen wood but you should probably throw out wood veneer and particle board as it often warps or disintegrates.
Don’t force open swollen doors, windows or drawers. Once they have dried they should be easier to open.
For fixed cupboards, open doors and remove drawers to let the air circulate.
For free standing cupboards that can’t be opened without force, remove the back of the cupboard to let the air circulate.
Clean off mud with a wet sponge.
Remove mildew sports with wood alcohol or turpentine.
Upholstered furniture should probably be thrown out. If a piece of furniture is an antique or valuable you could get a quote from a professional to see if the furniture is worth repairing.
Throw out soft or porous plastic and wooden items that have probably absorbed floodwater.
Hand wash dishes and pots that have been in contact with floodwater using a disinfectant. Leave to air dry - don’t use a tea towel.
The dishwasher should only be used after you know that the water is safe to drink, and the sewer and drainage lines are safe. Clean and disinfect it first using a hot water cycle.
Papers and books
If you don’t have time to work on your papers and books straight away, to stop mould and further damage, rinse items in clean water and place in a freezer.
When time allows, remove items from the freezer. As soon as they have thawed:
- dry papers and book pages with a blow dryer
- place blotting paper between pages of books to assist with drying.
Do not force paper sheets apart, continue to dry them until they come apart easily.
After your papers and books are completely dry they may still have a musty smell. Place them in a cool dry place for a couple of days. If the musky smell lingers to absorb odours:
- put the papers or books in an open box
- place the open box in a larger container with a lid
- put an opened box of baking soda in the larger container and close the container lid
- check the box daily for mould and whether the smell has disappeared.
Drying a wet book - NSW State Library website.
If you don’t have time to work on your photos straight away, rinse them in clean water and put them in a freezer to stop mould and further damage.
When time allows:
- Remove photos from the freezer.
- Place wet or frozen photos in a tub of cold clean water.
- Separate any photos that have stuck together.
- Don’t let photos come in direct contact with running water.
- Dislodge any dirt by gently moving the tub of water.
- Lay photos face up on a kitchen towel.
- Don’t wipe photos when wet.
Recommendations for cleaning and restoring photos - Fujifilm website.
To dispose of sandbags:
- put empty sandbags in the general waste bin
- store unused empty sandbags in a dry place for future use
- sand that hasn't come into contact with any contaminants, can be scattered on lawns and gardens as topsoil.
If sandbags have become contaminated, contact your local council for disposal information.
Comprehensive advice on the recovery of your valuable possessions including books, furniture, medals, paper, paintings, photographs, and sound and video recordings is provided in the information sheets on cleaning your precious possessions damaged by flood on the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material website.
Ventilate your home
Open the house up to sunlight and fresh air to remove any unpleasant odour.
Place small saucers of vinegar, vanilla or activated charcoal around the house and in cupboards to absorb odours.
Unsafe food and drinking water
It's important to make sure that you don't get sick from contaminated food and water.
If you experience a power failure during any emergency event, there are several steps you can take to limit the amount of spoilage to refrigerated and frozen food.
Fridges and freezers left unopened and turned off will only hold their temperature for a short time, but you may be able to save the frozen food. Keep the freezer closed as it has enough insulation to keep food frozen for at least one day. Alternatively, move your food to a neighbour's freezer or wrap the frozen food in newspaper and blankets or use an esky. Do not refreeze any food that has thawed.
Medicines, raw food and food in packaging - cardboard, plastic tubs, screw-topped jars and bottles, in direct contact with contaminated water should be thrown out.
Take photos for your insurance company of anything you throw out.
Remember, if in doubt throw it out.
Food safety in an emergency - SA Health website
Cleaning food containers and eating utensils
Cans that are still sealed, and aren't rusted, dented or swollen may be salvaged by cleaning:
- Remove the labels.
- Wash the cans in hot soapy water.
- Immerse the cans in a solution of household chlorine bleach and water for two minutes.
- Rinse in clean water
- Re-label the cans with a permanent waterproof marker pen.
For cooking utensils that have exposed to contaminated water:
- Wash the utensils in hot soapy water.
- Immerse in a solution of household chlorine bleach and hot water.
- Rinse in clean water.
If the mains water supply has been disconnected or is unavailable, check to see if the water has been turned off at the meter. If you are still experiencing problems or suspect that the water supply has been contaminated, contact SA Water:
- phone the customer service centre on 1300 650 950
- phone the 24/7 faults line on 1300 883 121
- go to www.sawater.com.au.
If a rainwater tank has been contaminated with flood water you can either open the cleaning outlet to let the water out and rinse the tank with a hose or disinfect the tank using 40 ml of liquid sodium hypochlorite (12.5% available chlorine) or 7 grams of granular calcium hypochlorite per 1000 litres of water. Although a chlorine taste and odour may persist for a few days, the water is safe for drinking.
Rainwater - SA Health website.
Safe water is needed for drinking, cooking and cleaning. The following amounts of water are required per person per day until your normal water supply is safe:
- drinking and food - 2.5 to 3 litres
- basic hygiene - 2 to 6 litres
- basic cooking - 3 to 6 litres.
If safe drinking water isn't available:
- tap water and rainwater tanks can be treated to make small quantities of water safe
- water can be sourced from SA Health registered drinking water providers.
Small amounts of water can be treated against microbial contamination and made safe to drink.
The simplest and best method to treat water is to boil it - eg in a kettle.
Water contaminated by chemicals (including fuels) will not be made safe by boiling. Use a different source of water if you know or suspect that water might be contaminated with chemicals.
The flat taste of boiled or treated water can be improved by pouring it back and forth from one clean container to another several times or by allowing it to stand for a few hours with a loose fitting cover so that it is exposed to the air.
When boiling is not practical the simplest, most effective method of making water safe is using common unscented household bleach containing chlorine.
Find the percentage of available chlorine on the label and use the information in the following table as a guide to disinfect the water.
|Available chlorine||Drops per litre of clean water|
Stir the water thoroughly and allow it to stand for thirty minutes.
The water should have a slight chlorine odour. If not, repeat the dosage and allow the water to stand for an additional 30 minutes.
Do not pour water onto chlorine. Always add chlorine to water. Always mix the chlorine in the open air.
Other simple ways of treating water to make it safe for drinking purposes include:
- chlorine tablets can be purchased from pharmacies, and camping and outdoor stores
- micro filters and purifiers can be purchased from camping and outdoor stores.
Follow the manufacturer's instructions for use.
Your drinking-quality water should be stored in a clean container in a cool place, away from direct sunlight.