Floods can wreak havoc, causing extensive damage to homes, businesses, infrastructure, and the environment. As we’ve seen recently with major flooding events, the impacts can be devastating. In this post, we’ll walk through the various types of damage that floods can cause, looking at both the immediate effects and longer-term consequences.
Damage to Homes
For many flood victims, the damage starts at home. Flood waters can rise rapidly, entering homes through doors, windows, and other openings. Once inside, the water causes significant damage as it permeates walls, carpets, furniture, and possessions. Key types of home damage include:
- Structural damage – The force of flood waters can damage or even destroy building foundations and frames. Floors can buckle, walls can collapse, and roofs can fail. This type of major structural damage often requires extensive repairs or complete rebuilding.
- Drywall and insulation damage – Drywall soaks up water like a sponge and quickly becomes saturated. The paper covering disintegrates and the soggy gypsum or fiberglass interior crumbles. Even if the drywall appears dry on the surface, mold and mildew can grow inside. Insulation loses its drying and warming properties when wet. All affected drywall and insulation typically needs replacement.
- Flooring damage – Carpeting, wood, tile, and laminate flooring absorb water and flood muck. The adhesives and padding under carpets break down. Wood warps and splits. Tile and laminate swell and detach. Effectively, all flooded flooring requires removal and replacement.
- Furniture damage – Furniture made of particle board or wood veneer doesn’t withstand exposure to moisture. Surfaces bubble, swell, and fall apart. Upholstery, mattresses, and pillows become waterlogged and contaminated with bacteria and mold. In most cases, flooded furniture cannot be salvaged.
- Appliance damage – Major appliances like refrigerators, washers, dryers, and furnaces usually cannot be repaired after flood damage. The water causes rust, corrosion, and short-circuiting of electrical components. Replacement tends to be the only option.
- Personal possession damage – From photos, clothing, and books, to electronics, artwork, and sports equipment, flood waters ruin many treasured personal items. Some possessions may be salvageable through professional restoration, but others are unrecoverable losses.
The costs to repair flood damage add up quickly. On average, the typical homeowners insurance claim for flood damage is around $40,000. Extensive repairs can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many victims without sufficient insurance face financial devastation.
Damage to Businesses
For companies with facilities in flood plains, the risks are substantial. When flood waters inundate offices, stores, plants, and warehouses, business operations grind to a halt. Inventory, equipment, furnishings, and building components saturate and fail. Revenue stops flowing while expenses skyrocket. Common business flood damages include:
- Facility closure – Until flooded facilities can be restored, business operations cannot resume. Income loss mounts by the day, especially for retailers, restaurants, hotels, and entertainment venues. Even when partially reopened, many experience reduced business due to limited operations.
- Building damage – As with homes, flood water damage to roofs, walls, floors, utilities, and other structural components is extensive. Repairs or full rebuilds are typically needed. Business owners also face costs to demolish, clear, and sanitize flooded facilities.
- Equipment damage – Flood waters often ruin expensive business equipment beyond repair. This includes machinery, servers, phone systems, point-of-sale systems, and more. Replacement costs put a huge strain on budgets.
- Merchandise and inventory loss – For retailers, manufacturers, and distributors, soaked inventory becomes unusable and unsellable. The lost products must be replaced entirely, at great cost. Perishable items also get destroyed.
- Data and record damage – When servers and files become waterlogged, irreplaceable data gets lost. Water can also warp paper records and ruin print materials needed for business operations.
- Contamination – Flood waters carry unsanitary contaminants and toxic pollution. Until professionally cleaned, deodorized and disinfected, flooded spaces remain hazardous. Mold and mildew spread quickly and can persist if underlying porous surfaces aren’t handled properly.
- Interrupted supply/delivery chains– For manufacturers and retailers, flooding anywhere along their supply and delivery chains causes problems. Supplies can’t get in and products can’t get out. Sales and service stop.
On top of immense recovery costs, businesses also take a hit to their brand reputation when they cannot serve customers reliably due to flood impacts. It’s clear that flooding poses major financial risks to companies of all sizes.
Damage to Infrastructure
From overflowing storm drains to washed out bridges, floods readily damage municipal infrastructure, often critically. As flooding disasters demonstrate, communities can be paralyzed when roads, power grids, water systems, and other infrastructure fail. Let’s look at some of the ways floods impact core infrastructure:
- Road and bridge closure – Flood waters make roadways impassable and undermine, shift, or scour bridges. Alternative routes get overwhelmed by diverted traffic. First responders cannot reach those in need. Businesses and communities become isolated.
- Drinking water contamination – Nearby flooded rivers, lakes or oceans can pollute drinking water sources and infiltrate supply pipes. Treatment systems also fail without power. Water utility crews work around the clock to restore safe supplies. Boil water advisories are common during floods.
- Storm and sewage overflow – Heavy rains overwhelm drainage and sewer systems. Excess water has nowhere to go but up onto streets or out through manhole covers. Overflow introduces disease-causing bacteria and hazardous chemicals into flood waters.
- Power outage – Submerged and damaged electrical substations, downed power lines, and disrupted natural gas supplies knock out electricity to flooded areas. Until crews can isolate damage and reroute supply, outage delays stretch on.
- Communication loss – Downed phone and internet cables, damaged switching stations, lost wireless tower access, and power outages cut off ways to get vital information to residents. Emergency communications become difficult.
- Transportation shutdown – Flooding shuts down public transit systems, airports, rail lines, ports, and major roadways. People cannot move around, supply chains break down, and economies slow. It takes time to inspect, repair, and reopen flooded transportation routes.
- Damage to public buildings – Floods frequently swamp and ruin public properties like government offices, schools, libraries, community centers, and health clinics. Municipal employees cannot work and public services halt.
Repairing all the infrastructure damage often takes months or years and puts substantial strain on public budgets, especially in communities with fewer resources. Support from higher levels of government and disaster aid programs assist the costliest recovery efforts. Still, the impacts on residents and local economies are harsh.
In addition to tangible property damage, floods wreak havoc on ecosystems, habitats, and water quality. Wild animals get displaced or die. Toxic pollution spreads. Sensitive aquatic life perishes. Environmental flood impacts include:
- Habitat destruction – Fast currents uproot vegetation, fell trees, and scour landscapes. Landslides wash away entire hillsides. Flooded areas take years to ecologically recover.
- Water pollution – Flood waters wash untold pollutants into rivers, lakes, and oceans. Waste from overloaded sewer systems, chemical facilities, and industrial plants contaminate waterways, along with pesticides, fertilizers, and oils from roads and farmland. Drinking water sources become polluted. Aquatic oxygen levels plummet when organic matter and sediments get stirred up.
- Spread of invasive species – Invasive plants, fish, and mussels get transported downstream into new areas and start to dominate native species. Their spread upsets the local ecological balance.
- Wildlife displacement and mortality – Animals like deer, foxes, and coyotes flee floodplains and concentrate in smaller habitable areas. Small species and nesting animals drown in flood waters or starve. Carcasses pollute water and attract scavengers and disease.
- Soil contamination – Flood waters leave behind contaminated sediments loaded with bacteria, chemicals, oils and toxins that seep into soil. Gardens, farms, and groundwater get polluted. Some areas cannot be farmed again for years.
- Forest damage – Excess water blocks tree roots from absorbing oxygen. Stressed trees become more vulnerable to diseases and insect infestations like bark beetles. Weakened forests then fuel future wildfires.
- Wetland impact – While certain floodplain wetlands benefit from periodic flushing with fresh sediments, severe or prolonged flooding alters water chemistry and allows invasive species to take over. Rare plants and animals dependent on specialized wetlands can die off.
- Shoreline erosion – Wave action and high water levels along coasts and lakes eat away at banksides, beaches, and bluffs. Valuable waterfront property gets washed away. Erosion alters shorelines for years.
Environmental damage reduces biodiversity, threatens endangered species, and degrades ecosystems. The impacts diminish nature’s resilience against future floods. Restoration takes considerable time and investment. Through pollution containment, reforestation, wetland rehabilitation, and erosion control measures, communities try to limit ongoing environmental flood damage. Still, most ecological harm cannot be undone.
Beyond immediate flood dangers like drowning, fast-rising waters present many infectious disease risks that leave lasting impacts on public health:
- Unsafe drinking water – When treatment systems fail, drinking water gets contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, and toxins. Outbreaks of waterborne illnesses like Giardia, Hepatitis A, and E. Coli spike after floods. Boil water advisories provide some protection.
- Water-caused injuries – Fast-moving, debris-filled flood waters lead to lacerations, bruises, and broken bones. Electrocution can occur when power lines fall into flooded areas. Infections often result, some potentially fatal like necrotizing fasciitis.
- Mold exposure – Damp conditions after floods encourage mold growth inside walls, under flooring, on furniture, and on possessions. Spores aggravate respiratory conditions like asthma. Mold can lead to painful sinus infections and long-term lung damage.
- Mosquito and wildlife issues – More standing water breeds mosquitoes, raising risks of West Nile Virus and other insect-borne diseases. Rodents displaced by floods also spread disease. Venomous snakes swim into unexpected areas.
- Carbon monoxide poisoning – Gasoline-powered pumps and generators release carbon monoxide into enclosed spaces during flood cleanup. The deadly, odorless gas sickens and kills unsuspecting people who breathe it. Proper ventilation, positioning, and exhaust direction reduce risks.
- Mental health impacts – Constant flood stress, fear for the future, economic loss, displacement from homes, and social disruption take an enormous toll on mental health. Rates of anxiety, depression, PTSD rise. Suicidal thoughts increase. Counseling services get overwhelmed.
- Delayed medical care – Flood damage to clinics and hospitals limits access to routine and urgent care. People with chronic conditions often have medications washed away and experience complications. Curtailed emergency services lead to poorer injury and illness outcomes.
The cascading health repercussions of floods persist long after the waters first rose. Families and neighbors try to support those struggling. Health providers work to connect people to medical care and mental health assistance even when resources are scarce. Still, floods leave lasting scars on population health.
All combined, the costs of flood damage accumulate into a huge financial burden on families, businesses, and governments. Common monetary impacts include:
- Home and property repairs – With the average flood insurance claim around $40,000, uninsured or underinsured families cannot begin to cover rebuilding costs. Many go into debt, get denied loans, or completely deplete savings to fix homes. Some walk away financially underwater.
- Temporary housing – Evacuees often pay for short-term lodging until they can return home. Additional living expenses add up without adequate insurance. Low-income families get squeezed without much savings to fall back on.
- Business revenue losses – Each day shuttered without income hurts small businesses. Even large companies see profits sink when facilities close and customers cannot be served. Continued overhead expenses like rent and payroll strain budgets. Some cannot economically reopen.
- Higher food prices – With flooded farms unable to plant and stores unable to open, local food shortages drive up costs, hurting economically vulnerable residents most. Imported replacement food also gets pricier.
- Lost work – Businesses cut staff and hours during closures or reduced operations. Employees go without pay or get laid off. Lost wages and unemployment claims rise in flood-impacted areas. Those living paycheck to paycheck get hit hardest.
- Strained public resources – Municipalities must fund substantial staff overtime plus pay for infrastructure and building repairs, temporary services, financial assistance programs, health services, and other emergency flood expenditures. Higher taxes often follow.
- Low property values – After extensive flooding, property values sink far below pre-flood assessments. Homes get abandoned which depresses entire neighborhoods. Local real estate tax revenues decline just as public costs increase.
- High insurance costs – Repeated flood damage prompts insurers to drop coverage or raise premiums sky-high in vulnerable areas. Homes become unsellable without affordable coverage. More families are underinsured or uninsured for the next flood.
It takes years to regain financial equilibrium after a flood’s destruction. While communities do their best to direct aid to those most disadvantaged, incredible hardship persists. Too many never financially recover.
Long-Term Community Impacts
Beyond the immediate flooding disaster, communities feel the effects for many years. The broad societal impacts go far beyond just infrastructure, housing, and dollars:
- Displacement and homelessness – When homes remain uninhabitable for months or years, families get forced into short-term rentals, emergency shelters, temporary trailers, or even onto the streets. Living in limbo, they lose connections to their school, work, doctors, and community. Costly displacements break apart neighborhoods.
- Loss of schools – Public schools shuttered due to excessive flood damage cause major disruptions to education. It takes time to move classes to temporary locations. Students drop out or fall behind, some never returning to school. Closures ripple through generations.
- Unemployment – As businesses close or lay off employees after floods, jobs disappear from the local economy for years. Those unemployed eventually move away for work which shrinks the workforce talent pool. New companies hesitate to move into flood zones.
- Loss of services – Doctors’ offices, grocery stores, banks, gyms, restaurants, and gas stations close if flooding puts them out of business. Communities suffer without convenient access to essential services nearby, especially those without transportation.
- Higher poverty and inequality – Lower income residents get hit hardest and recover slowest after floods. Wealthier residents and businesses move away, taking investments and resources with them. The socioeconomic divide widens. Social services cannot meet skyrocketing needs.
- Increased violence – Frustrations with inadequate disaster assistance have been linked to upticks in domestic violence and crime. Mental health declines feed substance abuse. Police and social workers cannot keep up with demand.
- Strained local government – Already under-resourced government agencies have to take on enormous emergency response duties with displaced staff and funding shortfalls from lower real estate taxes after floods. Cuts to other public programs result.
It takes resilient, connected communities working together for the years-long recovery process to rebuild safer, smarter, and flood-hardened. Resources from higher levels of government, charities, and volunteers get stretched thin quickly. The help needed remains immense.
Progress Through Planning
While flooding brings disastrous damage, all hope is not lost. With smart mitigation planning and preparedness, communities reduce risks, limit damage, and rebound faster after floods. Some key ways they are getting safer include:
- Elevating and flood-proofing buildings – In flood zones, structures can be elevated above expected water levels using pier foundations. Basements are avoided. Damage-resistant materials are used below flood levels. Temporary barriers help keep water out.
- Improving stormwater drainage – Enlarging drainage pipe capacity, adding holding ponds, using permeable pavement, and reducing impermeable surface area all alleviate urban stormwater flooding. Green spaces absorb more precipitation.
- Upgrading flood defenses – Building or reinforcing dikes, levees, floodwalls, dams, and drainage ditches better protects from rising waters. Room is left for overflow zones and diversion channels directed away from homes and businesses.
- Restoring wetlands and vegetation – Vegetation slows runoff reaching rivers and channels. Wetlands act as natural retention basins storing flood water and filtering pollutants. Their restoration around urban areas reduces downstream flooding.
- Expanding open spaces – Parks, protected greenbelt areas along waterways, recreational spaces, and urban forests preserve floodplains. They become flood zones by design rather than areas with homes and businesses in harm’s way.
- Enforcing zoning and building codes – Rules prohibit new construction in high-risk floodplains. All structures must meet flood-aware building codes for reinforced foundations, flood vents, raised utilities, and water-resistant materials.
- Improving alert systems – With linked rainfall monitors, stream gauges, and weather predictions, at-risk communities get earlier warnings of imminent flooding to begin protective actions and orderly evacuations well in advance.
- Purchasing flood insurance – All homeowners and businesses should verify they have sufficient, affordable flood insurance for both structures and possessions. Renters should also have contents coverage. Insurance payments alleviate financial devastation for many.
- Increasing disaster preparedness – Families, companies, and communities with emergency response plans, flood evacuation routes, disaster supply kits, backup power and communications, and awareness training withstand floods far better. Proper planning prevents flood damage panic.
Though always challenging, floods do not need to spell total doom and tragedy. With pragmatic defenses, policies, information systems, and proper preparation, communities aim to weather floods with less damage and rebound more rapidly. Still, diligence and investment against complacency are required before the waters rise again.
In this lengthy post, we covered the vast array of damage floods can cause if communities are caught off guard and lack adequate protections. Lives, homes, businesses, infrastructure, the environment, health, finances, and broader communities all suffer enormous consequences. It is clear that flooding deserves the utmost attention and respect.
Though flood risks can never be fully eliminated, work must continue worldwide to curb the extensive suffering these all-too-common disasters bring. We all have roles to play in pushing for and supporting the right flood policies and actions locally. Our shared future depends on it. Stay safe out there!
If you are experiencing water damage around North and Central Georgia, contact Southeast Water Restoration now!