James Hu pulls up carpeting from flood damage to his home. Photo credit: James Hu.
James Hu pulls up carpeting from flood damage to his home. Photo credit: James Hu.

Imagine waking up one morning and realizing that your basement has been flooded from the rain. For most people, it’s a nightmare. But for Dean Wong and James Hu, this was their harsh reality.

With unexpected and inclement weather hitting Seattle this winter, homeowners should prepare themselves for the worst. Unfortunately, Wong and Hu had to experience it firsthand.

It was Dec. 12, when Seattle was showered with unusually heavy rain.

Wong, a resident of Beacon Hill, discovered that the area around his washer and dryer was flooded with water. He tried to figure out where the water had come in from.

“It was a rude awakening for me,” he recalled. The 50 to 60 year-old house he grew up in had never been flooded before. It was a surprise to him especially because the home was situated on a hill.

Wong had a spare bedroom for storage and noticed the rug was soaking wet. In the walk-in closet, he saw a big puddle of water. He tried sweeping the water into the floor drain but it had started to back up which indicated to him that the volume of water was such that the floor drains were flooding.

“I focused on the walk-in closet and used the ‘shop vac’ to soak up as much water as I could,” he said. He spent several hours dealing with the flooded water — cutting up rugs that had been damaged, setting up a fan and moving his belongings away from the flooded areas.

He wasn’t the only one. Many of his neighbors experienced some water leak into their houses as well. Wong plans to waterproof the edges along the walls and fill in cracks where water bubbles are seen.

“I’m a little bit concerned but I could deal with it. I’m not looking forward to digging up the yard and putting drainage to divert the water away from the house,” Wong said.

Wong explained that there was minor damage to his framed photographs which had sentimental value. The photos had previously been displayed in the art walks in Canton Alley in the Chinatown/International District.

A month after the initial damage, today Wong’s basement is nearly back to normal. To avoid similar damage, Wong advises homeowners to have a utility pump handy, request a plumber check drains, to occasionally pour drain cleaner into the pipes, and to keep drains clear of obstruction. Another suggestion is to have a list of utility and emergency phone numbers accessible, such as restoration and insurance companies and neighbors.

Hu, another flood victim living in a 1942 home in the Northgate area, had a tenant living in the basement, who complained about water leaking into her space. Apparently, water was overflowing from the drain, too. Water had filled up the entire basement including the bedroom on the ground floor.

“I’m usually pretty calm when these things happen but when I saw the flooding, I was like, ‘oh no, there’s water everywhere,’” Hu said.

Hu sent out an email to the neighborhood mailing list, consisting of about 50 people. He asked for help and a few neighbors replied. A ‘shop vac’ was lent to him to pump the water out of the basement.

Five representatives of Belfor, a property restoration company that deals with floods and fires, arrived and spent hours cleaning, cutting up the carpets, had nearly a dozen blowers on the carpet and four dehumidifiers that sucked out the water.

“They were blowing for a whole week downstairs,” Hu said.

The total cost of repair and replacement cost about $7,000. Hu is currently dealing with home insurance to take care of some of the fees.

King County’s Assessor, Lloyd Hara, recommended that if people live in the flood plain, they should make sure to get flood insurance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“People should look into that if their homeowners’ policy doesn’t cover certain catastrophes, especially if they live in a high slide area or a flood plain,” Hara suggested.

He said that the federal government backs the insurance so it’s written in a manner that is relatively subsidized by tax payers. Everyone should be aware of the potential for flood damage, Hara suggests, not only those residing in flood plains. Hu agrees.

“No one is immune to flood because it could be water overflowing from your drain, pipe or washer. Any pipe can break and whenever or if it breaks, a flood can happen, even if someone lives in a condo,” Hu said.

Despite the possibility that everyone is at risk for flooding, there are various ways to prepare for such situations.

“In preparing for future floods, King County residents may access the King County Flood Service web page to view the real-time river levels and flow data, and flood safety videos in over 15 different languages, sandbag distribution and more,” said Phillip Sit, the communication and outreach coordinator for the King County Department of Assessments.

“King County residents that have experienced damaged or destroyed property in light of the recent flood may file a claim by contacting the King County Assessor’s office,” Sit said.

Knowing what to expect, homeowners can feel more at ease with the resources that the city has provided and be better prepared for weather extremes.

For more information, please visit: http://www.kingcounty.gov/environment/waterandland/flooding.aspx and http://www.kingcounty.gov/assessor.aspx.

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