Storms swamp Leon County: Did your home or car get flooded? Here's what to do now

Two rounds of storms slammed into Tallahassee Thursday leaving buildings flooded, a road washed out and even a flipped Florida Highway Patrol car.

Eastern Leon County received about 10-12 inches of rain, with the 14.58 inches recorded at Lake Iamonia, according to the National Weather Service. On Friday morning, some residents are waking up to wet carpets and ruined cars.

That makes this a good time to point out that most Floridians don't have flood insurance. Last year, just 18% of Florida homeowners (and only 4% of U.S. homeowners) had flood coverage, which is only required if you have a mortgage and live in a designated flood zone. Starting last spring, state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. began phasing in a requirement that new policyholders have flood insurance.

But what do you do if your home or car was just flooded?

Flooded road reopened: Leon County staff fix Sir Richard Road nine hours after dramatic washout

What do I do if my house or apartment was flooded?

After you're safe and you rescue anything that needs immediate rescuing, immediately document the damage with photos and video and file a claim with your insurance provider, according to Mark Friedlander, spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute.

For homes, condos and rental units, the only product that will cover flood damage is flood insurance. This is usually a separate policy, either provided by the federal government through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) or by some private companies. It also can come as a specific rider on your property insurance policy.

If you have flood insurance through FEMA, call FEMA immediately and have the paperwork with your policy number ready. Information about filing a claim, documenting damage, working with your flood insurance adjuster, making repairs and understanding your claim payment is available on FEMA.gov. If you don't know who your insurance agent or company is, you need to start a claim, or you need general information, call 877-336-2627.

As for your house or apartment, first, stay safe. Here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Turn off the power. If your home has standing water and you can turn off the main power from a dry location, do that. If you'd have to enter standing water to get to the main power switch, call an electrician and don't do it yourself.

  • Turn off the gas. If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve, open all windows, and leave your house immediately. Notify the gas company or the police or fire departments, and do not turn on the lights or do anything that could cause a spark. Do not return until you are told it is safe to do so.

  • Get it checked out. Have an electrician check the house’s electrical system before turning the power on.

  • Air the place out. If the house has been closed up for several days, enter briefly to open doors and windows to let the house air out for a while (at least 30 minutes) before you stay for any length of time.

  • Plan for mold. If your home has been flooded and has been closed up for several days, assume your home has mold.

Keep in mind that if your home has been flooded, it also may be contaminated with sewage.

How to dry out your home after flooding

When it is safe, start drying out your home to stop the damage from getting worse. Progressive.com has some tips:

  • Wear protective equipment such as rubber boots and gloves. Flood waters may contain hazardous materials and even raw sewage. If your house was built before 1978, you may had lead-based paint particles.

  • Air it out, using a wet/dry vacuum cleaner or hiring a professional to prevent mold from growing and spreading.

  • Take everything the water touched out of the house or apartment. Solid wood furniture can be left to dry and personal items such as family photos can be salvaged, but anything else should be thrown out. Rip out the carpet and carpet pads.

  • Have it checked out. If any electrical wires were submerged or breakers were tripped, contact an electrician before attempting to restore power to the home.

  • Throw out any food that came into contact with flood waters.

  • Remove damaged drywall a foot above the waterline before water continues to soak into undamaged areas. You'll likely need to strip the place down to the concrete slabs and wall studs. If an insurance adjuster has not been by to inspect the damage, keep a section of wet drywall for them to see later.

It’s important to note that federal flood insurance won’t cover living expenses the way a private flood insurance policy might.

If you make temporary repairs, Friedlander suggested taking pictures before the repairs are made and keeping the receipts to add to your claim.

How do I save my photos, documents and heirlooms after a flood?

FEMA.gov has these tips and a help sheet for saving your family treasures:

  • Prioritize. You may not be able to save everything so focus on what’s most important to you.

  • Air-dry. Gentle air-drying is best for all your treasured belongings that aren't metal or plastic. Don't use hair dryers, irons, ovens, or prolonged exposure to sunlight to avoid doing irreversible damage.

  • Handle with care. Use great caution in handling your heirlooms, which can be especially fragile when wet. Carefully separate damp materials, especially papers and photographs which may be impossible to separate safely once they dry together,

  • Clean gently. Loosen dirt and debris on fragile objects gently with soft brushes and cloths.

  • Salvage photos. Clean photographs by rinsing them carefully in clean water, then air-dry them on a plastic screen or paper towel.

What do I do if my car, truck or SUV was flooded?

For cars, comprehensive coverage includes not only flooding but also trees falling on the car, hail, fire, theft, vandalism and cracked windshields, Friedlander said. This type of coverage must be carried by drivers with an auto loan but is optional for those in Florida who lease or own their car outright so check your policy. If your car was in your home's garage, contact your homeowners insurance company first.

If your car has been flooded, contact your insurer and:

  • DO NOT try to start it. If water has gotten into your engine, transmission or fuel system, starting it could make it worse. If the water level didn’t reach the door and the inside is dry, it’s possible that the car is safe. But make sure to get it checked out by a professional first.

  • Take photos of your car and any damage.

  • Disconnect the battery to avoid shocks or damaging the electrical system.

  • Open the doors and windows. Start to dry out your car to avoid electrical or mold issues.

  • Remove any personal items from the car and dry them.

  • Check the oil dipstick for water. Change the oil and transmission fluid. If the vehicle is driveable, do this again after you've driven it several hundred miles

  • Remove water-damage cylinders and check for corroded spots.

  • Check the electrical components.

  • Check the fuel tank and line.

  • Vacuum the water out. For minor flooding where the vehicle is salvageable, use a shop vac to get excess water from the carpets and upholstery and remove the mats to dry separately. You may need to remove the carpeting entirely for deeper cleaning.

  • If your vehicle was in a lot of water, don't bother with the carpets. Muddy water can get into engine seals within a few hours, according to Popular Mechanics, and salt water is amazingly corrosive. You'll need to have the vehicle drained of oil and transmission fluid, the oil pan removed and cleaned, the wheel bearings cleaned and repacked, and the gas tank siphoned and possibly cleaned.

  • Check your auto policy to see if a rental car will be covered.

If your vehicle was submerged in water or the water level was over your engine, it's very likely a total loss.

Do not attempt to drive in a flooded area. Emergency management officials often say “turn around, don’t drown” for this reason, as you don’t truly know how deep the water is.

How do I get a contractor out to my home if my house was flooded?

Your local homeowner's insurance may work with companies that do flood mitigation, repairs and restoration. Be sure anyone you use is licensed and insured.

You can also check with your neighbors or look at neighborhood [psts in Facebook groups or NextDoor to see if anyone is recommended (but check them out anyway). A group of neighbors may be able to negotiate with contractors.

Dealing with the floods: Not sure where to start with flood insurance? Here’s what you should know

I don’t have flood insurance. Do I need it?

Whether or not to get flood insurance is completely up to you. It’s all about managing risks.

At the very least, now is the time to do an insurance checkup with your agent to make sure your property and auto insurance coverage is what you need. If you haven’t already, you can create a photo inventory of everything in your home that will be useful if you need to file a claim. It can be helpful, but not necessary, to know the cost of valuable items.

“Florida is the state most vulnerable to flooding in the country,” Friedlander said. Flooding is possible outside of FEMA maps, with storms in the summer or king tides.

John Gallas, Hannah Morse, USA TODAY NETWORK - Florida, contributed to this article.

This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Tallahassee area flooded in Thursday storms. How to save homes, cars