A flood of water causes more than property damage. It can bring a flood of emotional reactions, practical needs, financial consequences, and ongoing challenges.
The most common causes of flood damage are:
- extreme weather
- poor drainage
- roof leaks
- plumbing issues
- faulty appliances.
Most people find experiencing a house or business flood extremely stressful. In some circumstances it can also be frightening. If there is some warning, people often will work quickly to protect their property, valuables, pets, animals, their neighbours and family, and themselves. While there can be huge efforts made to sandbag properties, worry and uncertainty about the possible level of damage brings more tension. Evacuations might be needed, but some may feel reluctant to leave their property. It can be difficult to even believe what’s happening.
The amount of physical damage can vary, from minimal harm done to the total loss of a home or business property. Serious floods are unpredictable and can be difficult or impossible to control. They can become threatening fast, at any time of day or night, and sometimes there is no warning. In some situations, many homes and properties in the same community can be affected.
While damage can occur, floods can tragically also sometimes cause serious physical injuries or even fatalities.
If someone you love has died in a flood, please see our sudden death support information here.
Any serious flood has far-reaching consequences for all those affected. It can mean not only the temporary or permanent loss of a home or business, but of other things you value, such as precious objects, photo albums, important documents, clothing, electrical equipment, digital devices, books, personal gear, and children’s toys. Your home or business would normally feel secure, safe, comforting, and part of your familiar daily routine. Suddenly losing these things is very hard. A lot of change can happen very fast.
FENZ (Fire and Emergency New Zealand) assist people facing flood emergencies. So do police, ambulance, civil defence, Red Cross and other community agencies, depending on each situation.
If the flooding is widespread and requires evacuation, the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management can activate the National Crisis Management Centre to be ready to support regions affected by flooding.
Report the flood
If you see water rising to a threatening level and believe there's a risk to you, your home or business, or to other people or property, immediately call 111 and ask for Fire and Emergency. Give your:
- house or property number, street name, suburb, and town/ city
- or Rural Address Property Identification (RAPID) number if you have one
- nearest intersection.
Keep yourself and others safe
Always put safety first. Don’t take chances.
Put your household or business emergency plan into action and check your getaway kit. Be prepared to evacuate quickly if necessary and keep your grab bag near.
Stay informed by listening to the radio or following your local Civil Defence Emergency Management Group online. Follow any instructions about evacuation of your area.
If you see rising water, don’t wait for official warnings and act quickly. Get yourself and others to go to the closest high ground or move as fast as possible away from the floodwater.
Move pets to a safe place and, in rural areas, move stock to higher ground. If you have to leave, take your pets with you if possible.
Look out for your neighbours and anyone who may need your help. If you have a disability or health condition and need support, contact neighbours and your support network, or call 111.
Do not attempt to drive or walk through floodwaters unless it is absolutely essential.
It may not be safe to return home even when the floodwaters have receded. Continue to listen to your local radio station for civil defence instructions.
Swimming, water activities, or shellfish gathering
- Stay out of the water during flooding and afterwards, until the water is visibly clear and no longer a threat.
- If there has been sewage contamination, do not swim in rivers and coastal areas until council officials give the all clear.
- Avoid collecting shellfish contaminated by flood waters for at least a week – this should be extended to 28 days if contamination by human sewage is also likely.
Find your local civil defence group here.
Protect your property and belongings if there is time
- Consider using sandbags to keep water away from your home.
- Lift curtains, rugs and bedding off the floor.
- Move valuable and dangerous items, including electrical equipment and chemicals, as high above the floor as possible. Use watertight containers to store important items.
- Fill bathtubs, sinks and storage containers with clean water in case water becomes contaminated.
- Turn off utilities if told to do so by authorities as it can help prevent damage to your home or community. Unplug small appliances to avoid damage from power surges.
- Powerco offers these safety tips. If you have trouble turning gas or electricity off, contact your utility service provider for help.
An investigation and safety checks
Investigators from Civil Defence, your local council, and your insurance company may need to investigate the cause of the flooding. Before entering your home or property, they will ask your consent and explain what they will be doing, and how. You can talk to them about what their investigation involves.
An emergency services official can check the water, electricity, and gas supplies. They will then either arrange to have them disconnected or let you know what to do next.
If the flooding was deliberate:
If it is suspected or confirmed that the flooding was caused deliberately, this is a crime and police will also become involved.
If your home or business is considered ‘unsanitary’
It is possible that your house or business may be assessed as being 'unsanitary' if flood waters have been through it. This means you may not be able to continue to occupy the building/s until repairs have been made.
You will need to contact your insurers to arrange an assessment before calling in qualified contractors to do the work needed to make your home or business safe and sanitary again.
Going back into your property
Unless damage is minor, do not enter your flood-damaged house or property unless an emergency services official has given you permission to – however tempted you are to do it. Healthy and safety must come first. Flood damage can cause dangerous hazards. Do not do anything that puts your safety at risk or causes more damage to your property.
When you're allowed back into the property, try to find your:
- personal identification cards/papers
- insurance information
- medication, health information, health equipment
- eye glasses
- hearing aid
- wallet and valuables.
- Throw away food (including canned goods) and drinking water that have been contaminated by floodwater.
- Avoid drinking or preparing food with tap water until you are certain it is not contaminated. Follow any boil water notice instructions from your local authorities. If in doubt, check with your local council or public health authority.
- For more about food safety in an emergency or natural disaster
These tips are provided by the National Emergency Management Agency’s Get Ready team:
- Clean and dry your house or business and everything in it. Floodwater can make the air in your property unhealthy. This is because when things get wet for more than two days they usually get mouldy and there may also be germs and bugs in your home after a flood.
- Mould may make some people sick, especially if they have asthma, allergies, or other breathing problems. If this happens, seek immediate medical assistance.
- Talk to your doctor or another medical professional if you have questions about cleaning or working in a home that has been flooded. If there is a large amount of mould, you may want to hire professional help to clean up the mould.
- Protect yourself by wearing a certified respirator, goggles, gloves, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and boots or work shoes.
- Throw away anything that was wet with flood-water and can’t be cleaned.
- Throw away any wooden spoons, plastic utensils, and baby bottle teats and dummies if they have been covered by floodwater. There is no way to safely clean them.
- Disinfect metal pans and utensils by boiling them in clean water.
If you can't return to your home or property
If you can't return, you’ll need to organise accommodation. You might need to stay with family, whānau, friends, or in a local motel for a few nights. It may be for longer if there has been serious damage done to your home. (See below for who to contact for some extra help, including to find temporary accommodation.)
If the house can no longer be lived in, board up openings to discourage trespassers. Your Fire and Emergency contact, or civil defence contact, can advise you about this and other ways to secure your property from trespassers.
Restoring your property after water damage
If your home or business has been affected by flood and water damage, the first step will be to dry it out as early and as quickly as possible. Typically, homes can take from a few days to a week to dry.
Local water damage specialists can help with this, using drying and dehumidifying equipment which will work to quickly extract interior water damage. They can then help you with the repair and restoration process. Check the Yellow Pages or Google 'flood restoration work’ or ask your local council about your options.
Who to tell
Let key people or businesses know what’s happened because they might be able to offer guidance, help and support:
- your insurance company, if you are insured – follow their guidance and make an insurance claim as soon as possible
- family, whānau, friends
- your bank or mortgage company
- your child's school – so your child gets their support.
Also contact any agency or business providing services to your property, such as:
- post office
- electricity supplier
- gas supplier
- water supplier
- phone and Internet provider
- your local council, who will guide you through any local procedures and services.
They'll each explain what the next steps need to be.
If you're a tenant in a rental property
Contact your landlord as soon as possible. If you're a Kāinga Ora tenant (formerly Housing New Zealand) contact your tenancy manager or them on 0800 801 601.
Next, contact your contents insurance company as soon as possible.
Rural support after floods
The Ministry of Primary Industries offers these resources:
Links for further information about managing adverse flood conditions
NZ Dairy provides this flood support information.
If you're insured contact your insurance company, agent, or broker as soon as possible. They will explain what you will need to do next, such as making a list of damaged items or how to make your house or property secure.
- Don't remove any items or arrange any repairs until you've talked to them.
- Don't throw away any damaged items in case they need to be assessed.
- Take notes and photographs of any damage. It will help speed up assessments of your claims.
- Keep receipts for all the expenses resulting from the flood. For example, for accommodation or replacement clothes. These can be used in your insurance claim.
Remember, it's common for insurance companies to investigate flood claims. You can help them by remembering and noting down as much as you can about any events leading up to the flood. This can help you to answer questions your insurer will probably ask.
If you don't have insurance, it can take more time to get back on your feet. A lot will depend on how serious the damage has been. For help and support, see the next section.
Who to contact for extra help
You and your family and whānau may be able to deal with the challenges you’re facing on your own, but it can often help to use the assistance of others as well.
Your local civil defence centre (if flooding is widespread) can be found here. Find your local civil defence group here
- Victim Support - call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker
- Work and Income – call 0800 559 009 or visit their website.
- Kāinga Ora tenant (formerly Housing New Zealand) – call 0800 801 601 or visit their website.
- Your local church or faith centre
- Your local Salvation Army housing services - click on Get Help
- Local support agencies. Use this directory to find support in your area for yourself and your family and whānau.
- Rural Support Trust – call 0800 787 254 or visit their website here.
See your doctor for any health concerns, especially if you are experiencing sleeplessness or high levels of anxiety. See your own GP or find one near you in this directory.
Need to talk?
- Victim Support - call 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker
- 1737 - call or text 24/7 for free support from a trained counsellor
- Lifeline – call 0800 543 354
- Call or text Youthline 0800 376 633, free txt 234 , or Webchat
- Rural Support Trust – call 0800 787 254
- To find a counsellor, see the Mental Health Foundation’s tips or see this Talking Works directory
- For other specialist helplines, go to this Mental Heath Foundation directory
Managing media interest
See our helpful guidelines here.
Make a plan to keep flood safe
In the aftermath of a flood, it is very important to know what to do to protect yourself and others from any possibility of a future flood. Understandably, many flood victims find themselves worrying if another flood event might happen. Having an action plan ready can help increase confidence in your personal safety and security, and that of your family and whānau. Or, if you are a business, in the safety and security of your staff and property.
Learn about making a business continuity plan here.
Give yourself time to recover after this traumatic experience
See below for some common reactions that people have after a serious flood and ideas for coping with them.
After a flood, the practical and emotional challenges of evacuating, relocating, restoring or rebuilding are huge. However, when there have been injuries or fatalities involved, of people and/or pets, the impact is understandably far greater.
Everyone’s different and will react in their own way
As the extent of the flood’s damage and its consequences start to become clearer, reactions can vary. There can be a lot to handle and cope with. Many find that the flood and its aftermath is traumatic and that their emotional reactions are intense for a while.
People will often first experience shock and disbelief. So much can be happening that it’s disorienting and hard to take in. Many say their flood-related experiences left them feeling many different emotions all at once, including helplessness, worry and anxiety, frustration and anger, tearfulness, sadness and grief. Often emotions can arrive in bursts – such as bouts of anger or panic.
The damage done can leave some people feeling overwhelmed and despairing. If injury or deaths have been avoided, there is relief and gratitude, but if people or pets have sadly been seriously hurt or killed, it’s an especially difficult time.
Many flood victims grieve for what’s been lost or damaged, even small things that may not have seemed much to others. As they try to make sense of the flood, many ask why questions, such as Why did this happen? People can have lots of ‘if-only’ questions going round and round in their minds. Some may blame themselves or others for a perceived lack of flood prevention actions, or for a lack of response. The world can suddenly feel more unsafe and uncertain than it was before. The future can suddenly look different.
You might find it’s hard to concentrate on other things because you’re preoccupied with what happened. The flood event may come into your mind often, uninvited. You may be more distracted and forgetful than normal. It might be harder to think clearly. You may feel more edgy and jumpy, in case there is another flood.
Victims of a flood can sometimes find that certain sights, sounds, smells, sensations, or feelings can remind them of the flood. These can bring new waves of emotion and distress with them. Reminders could be, for example, an emergency vehicle speeding by, another severe weather event, coverage of a flood on the news, the smell of mould, or photos of the house before the flood. Some people can also find they have vivid ongoing dreams or nightmares. Some may experience distressing flashbacks to what happened, as if it’s happening to them all over again. See our info sheet on dealing with flashbacks. (LINK to flashbacks)
Physical reactions often include having difficulty sleeping or changes in appetite. People can experience shakiness, a tight chest, a racing heart, difficulty breathing, body aches, nausea, upset stomach, or headaches. Existing health conditions may worsen because of the stress.
These kinds of reactions are all normal after a traumatic experience. However they might not feel normal and they might affect you and others more, and for longer, than you expect. See tips below for coping with reactions.
During and after a flood, people will often team up to support each other and to later clean and clear debris and damage. It can be an experience that helps people bond and get to know each other in a unique way.
If children or young people have been affected by a flood
See our information sheet for parents and caregivers about Supporting your child or young person after a crime or traumatic event.
If someone you love has died in the flood
Please see our sudden death support information here.
Recovering after any intense, traumatic event often takes longer than we expect. Our overall health and emotional wellbeing can be affected. Gradually the intensity of our reactions will lessen, and our sense of safety, security, and comfort can be regained. Life can move forward once again, but recovery will take time. It really helps when families, whānau, friends, and neighbours make themselves available to support each other.
If anyone has died as a result of the flood
The loss of a loved one and the grief that follows can be very hard. Please see our sudden death support information here.
Ask for the help you need
Many people are around who want to help and will help. They just need to know what to do that will be most helpful right now.
You can also call Victim Support 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker who can help you find local support options.
Looking after yourself is important
In the aftermath of a flood crisis we can easily forget that taking care of ourselves is one of the best things we can do – both for ourselves and for others relying on us. Some helpful self-care tips to consider are as follows:
Take it one day at a time. Keep up routines and get good rest and sleep, as best you can. Eat healthy food. Drink enough water. Do some simple exercise. Take some slow, deep breaths. Spend time with people you can relax with, or with a pet. Spend time in nature. If you find keeping busy helps, find useful tasks to do. See a doctor if you’re unwell, extremely anxious, or are having difficulty sleeping. Draw on any cultural or spiritual beliefs you may have. Accept caring offers from others if that would help. Remember what’s worked for you before in stressful times and do those things. Use your inner resilience. LINK to resilience page. Encourage others who have been affected to look after themselves too.
Talk about what happened
When you’re ready, talk to those you trust about what happened. It could be to a trusted member of your family, whānau, friend, doctor, counsellor, respected elder, rangatira, or a Victim Support worker. If any aspects of your story are particularly disturbing, speak to a professional. Talking honestly about how things are can help you release some of the stress and emotional tension that’s built up inside.
After a traumatic experience, a flashback feels like you’re back in the middle of what happened or reliving some aspect of it. This can be in vivid detail. During a flashback it can be difficult and confusing to connect back to the present and to what is real. To better understand flashbacks and ways to manage them, see our information sheet Dealing with Flashbacks.
More tips for coping with your reactions
To understand more about trauma and grief, and to find some ways to cope with your reactions, please see:
If your reactions trouble you
- Visit your doctor. They can do a health check and support you with any on-going issues, such as sleeplessness, anxiety, or depression.
- Consider talking with a counsellor or psychologist. They can help you work through your reactions and the consequences the crime has had.
- If you need to find a local doctor, counsellor, or psychologist, please click here.
If children or young people are affected by the flood
It’s common for children and young people to experience significant distress and on-going anxieties after a flood – which is a traumatic event. Many remain worried and on alert in case another flood might happen. Some may be clingier and upset when they’re separated from parents or other family members. Some can be more moody, irritable, angrier, deeply sad, or completely overwhelmed at times. Our information sheet for parents and caregivers Supporting your child or young person after a crime or traumatic event offers helpful insights into what a child or young person may be experiencing, depending on their age and stage. It also offers ways you can give them good ongoing support.
Remember that parents and carers are a child or young person’s main source of security during this time of sudden change. Keep your focus on helping them to be safe and feel safe. Be there for them in the weeks and months to come as they emotionally react and adjust to the changes. Avoid talking to them about your own fears and worries and find an adult you trust to talk to instead.
We are here for you 24/7
Our Support Workers are available to support you personally, or as a family or whānau, for as long as you need us. You can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.
Our support is completely free and confidential, and available throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.
What we can offer
Our Support Workers can support you with:
- someone to listen, talk with, and support you to cope through trauma and loss
- help to understand your rights and make informed choices
- information and help to answer your questions
- help to access local support services and counselling to suit your situation
- and if the flood damage was done deliberately and therefore a crime:
- someone to assist and support you at court trials, hearings, and dealing with police and other government agencies
- help to prepare Victim Impact Statements and attend family group or restorative justice conferences
- financial assistance for victims of serious crime.
We are committed to providing quality support to strengthen the mana and wellbeing of all those affected by flooding.
If English is your second language
If you require support in your first language, Victim Support can use Ezispeak to connect with an interpreter over the phone. Call us on 0800 842 846 and let us know. We will try to match you to a Support Worker who speaks your language.