After a flood, it's important to get the water out of your house as quickly as you can. If it isn't too deep, you might be able to mop it up. If it's lapping up past the soles of your shoes, whether in the basement or on another level of your house, a wet/dry vac is the better way to go. Plug it in far away from the water—if necessary,use a heavy-duty extension cord—to avoid getting a shock, and use a nozzle attached to a long hose to vacuum up the water. For the best protection, plug the vac into an outlet protected by a ground-fault circuit interrupter, or use an extension cord that has one.
If the water is really deep, you might have to use an electric- or gas-powered sump pump. If you use a gas pump, keep fumes out of your house by putting it outdoors and running the hose through a window or door.
A ground-fault circuit interrupter is an electrical device that senses potential shock hazards caused by moisture or a damp floor. When it detects a problem, it shuts off power to the circuit in question.
While it's important to get the water out of your house as soon as possible, you don't want to pump it out too quickly if you're dealing with lots of water in your basement caused by groundwater or floodwater seepage.
These floods often cause little or no structural damage because the water pressure inside the basement usually equals that of the water in the ground outside. This stabilizes the walls and prevents cave-ins. Maintaining this equilibrium is necessary to prevent damage. If you pump all of the water out of the basement while the ground is still saturated, the outside water pressure could push in the walls or cause the floors to buckle and heave.
Pumping the water out gradually will keep pressure at an even keel inside and out and minimize damage risks. Here's how to do it:
Pump the water down about 2 to 3 feet. Mark the water level and leave everything as is for 24 hours. Do not pump out any additional water.
Check the water level the next day. If it hasn't gone up over the mark you made the previous day, it's safe to keep pumping. If it did, pumping out additional water may be unsafe. Wait another day, then pump out another 2 to 3 feet. Mark the new level and wait another 24 hours.
Check the water level again. If it hasn't gone back up, pump out another 2 to 3 feet and wait another day. Repeat step 3 until you get all the water out of your basement.
As water levels go down, you might start seeing a certain amount of sludge, sewage, or other debris. It's all a health hazard, and you want to avoid touching it as much as possible. However, you don't want to vacuum it up as doing so can clog your vac. Instead, scoop or shovel as much of it as you can into a bucket.
For help with repairs to your home after the initial bailing of water, see Cleaning Up After a Flood.