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While Milwaukee is not generally subjected to area wide flooding, circumstances such as severe storms can cause flooding of basements. In some instances, sewers may be unable to handle the load. Sump pumps may be unable to remove water fast enough, resulting in flooding or sewer backups. The following tips are offered to assist property owners or tenants in handling such situations.


  • Floodwater may be contaminated with sewage and should be treated as such.
  • Minimize skin exposure by wearing rubber boots and rubber gloves during cleanup.


  • If standing water is present, electrical hazards may exist. Wear rubber boots before entering the area. Do not touch any pipes, electrical conduits, motors, switch boxes, fuse boxes, etc. If you are going to work in the basement, all power which services that area should be turned off at the fuse box. If unfamiliar with the location or operation of the electrical service, do not attempt to disconnect the power source at the electrical main. If the electrical main is to be disconnected, wear rubber boots and rubber gloves, stand on a wooden chair or wooden ladder and disconnect the main breaker using non-conductive materials (i.e. wood, plastic, etc.), NOT METAL!
  • There is a hazard in utilizing electrical equipment (i.e. sump pumps, furnace motors, etc.) which is wet. It can produce severe shocks and endanger human life as well as burn out the equipment. Make sure all electrical equipment is dry before use.
  • Check gas and oil furnaces as well as gas hot water heaters for escaping gas and ensure that pilot flames are lit. If gas is escaping, do not light a match until the gas supply has been shut off. If unfamiliar with this procedure, contact your local Gas Company or professional heating contractor.
  • The area may be extremely slippery. Walk carefully.

Cleaning and Sterilizing Basements after Flooding

  • The sewer will generally return to its normal function after the heavy rains have stopped. If it does not, it could be due to materials clogging the drains or an inoperable sump pump. Check all floor drains to ensure that they are clear of debris. In unusual circumstances it may be necessary to rent a pump to remove the flood waters from the basement before proceeding with the cleanup.
  • Rinse all contaminated surfaces with clear water and sweep or squeegee the floor(s) to remove contaminated water and sediment.
  • Mix four tablespoons of household bleach with one gallon of water. Use this solution to wash all contaminated surfaces. Provide adequate ventilation and allow the surfaces to remain damp with this solution for thirty minutes, then rinse with clear water. The bleach solution is necessary to kill the bacteria, which may have been left by the floodwaters. Be very careful in handling concentrated bleach since it is a severe irritant to the skin and eyes and will readily eat through clothing. Wear protective equipment (i.e. goggles, gloves, etc.).
  • The bleach solution may eliminate odor problems left by the floodwaters. Additional deodorizers may be necessary in very unusual cases.

Cleaning of Clothes, Bedding and Other Similar Items

  • Since harmful bacteria can remain alive for long periods in and on fabrics, care in laundering clothing, bedding and other similar materials is essential.
  • First, brush off all dirt, and if mud-stained, rinse in cool water until as much mud as possible is removed. Then wash per directions for that type of materials using enough detergent to keep soil from redepositing on fabrics.
  • The use of a disinfectant in rinse water is especially recommended to destroy bacteria. Check label instructions regarding use of these types of products.
  • Mattresses or other large similar items soaked with flood waters will probably have to be discarded: since reconditioning is too difficult to be done at home, However, if the mattress or pillows are made of foam rubber, it may be possible to wash, disinfect and air dry these items.

Cleaning of Cooking, Eating and Other Small, Utensils

  • Carefully wash all cooking and eating utensils using warm water and soap, Use a brush, if necessary to remove dirt.
  • Rinse everything thoroughly in safe water and then disinfect by immersing for two minutes in a solution made up of four (4) tablespoons of liquid household bleach in two (2) gallons of water.
  • Dispose of any paper or plastic eating/cooking utensils exposed to flood waters.

Salvaging Food Items Which Were Exposed to Flood Waters

  • Due to potential bacterial contamination, extreme caution must be practiced In salvaging food items exposed to flood waters.
  • Dispose of all food items packaged in paper, cardboard or non-waterproof packaging.
  • Destroy all packaged foods, which were exposed directly to the floodwaters.
  • Dispose of all foods, whether contaminated or not, which need refrigeration and have been out of refrigeration for more than four (4) hours. Frozen foods, which have thawed completely, should be cooked within two (2) hours or destroyed.
  • Foods in waterproof, airtight containers which are in good condition and cleanable may be salvaged as follows:

a) Remove labels. Keep the same kinds of food together or mark them in a way that will enable you to identify them after disinfection.
b) Carefully wash and scrub containers in warm water, which contains soap or detergent.
c) Rinse the containers in clear water.
d) Soak the containers at least two(2) minutes in a solution made by mixing four (4) tablespoons of liquid chlorine bleach with one gallon of water.
e) Rinse in clean, cool water.

  • Bottled goods with crown closures, crimped caps or screw caps may be used after washing and sterilization, if floodwaters did not reach the caps. If floodwaters covered the neck of the battle, contents should be discarded.
  • Dispose of packaged food that has been punctured or is bulging or leaking.

Personal Hygiene

  • Remember that floodwaters may carry bacteria and other substances which may be harmful to your health. Precautionary measures must be taken when working in flooded basements.
  • Do not smoke or eat while working in a flood contaminated area. Do not put your hands to your face when they are contaminated with floodwaters.
  • Wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling contaminated articles.
  • Properly protect any existing cuts, scraps, etc., so as not to come into contact with contaminated floodwaters. If you receive a puncture wound when working in a contaminated area, see your doctor immediately.

Additional Information

If additional information is needed, call the Milwaukee Health Departments Bureau of Consumer Protection and Environmental Health at 414 286-3558 or contact the local Red Cross at 414 342-8680.

Numbers to call for Assistance


FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY (FEMA) 1-800-462-9029 Disaster Assistance
FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY (FEMA) 1-800-462-7585 Hearing Impaired Number
American Red Cross 1-800-541-2748 Cleanup Supplies




Where is the flood zone?

Flood Maps are available from the National Flood Insurance Program's map service center. Call 1-800-358-9616. The maps are $0.50 per panel plus $2.50 shipping and handling. They are indexed by city and the size of the panel varies from five blocks to 50 blocks depending on the specific flooding terrain and hazards.


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