(Tallahassee Democrat) – September 2, 2008 -- Floodwaters from Tropical Storm Fay ruined Bob and Shelley Finch's home in the besieged Timberlake neighborhood. Their kitchen and bathrooms must be rebuilt and most of their carpet replaced. They lost $30,000 of goods in their garage, including Bob's childhood memorabilia.

The Finches are somewhat lucky. They have flood insurance, and their insurance company responded immediately after the storm hit Aug. 22-23. But they and 5-year-old daughter Katie have been forced from their home for more than a week, and it'll be several more weeks before repairs are completed and they can move back.

"I'm really surprised at the damage water has done," said Bob Finch, a communications consultant. "It's amazing how fast mildew starts."

About 700 homes in Leon County suffered structural and/or flooding damage from Fay, with "the preponderance being flooding damage," said Richard Smith, Leon County emergency-management director. Smith said that number ranks with 1994 (three storms) and 2001 (Tropical Storm Allison) as the worst local storm damage in recent years - and the hurricane season still has three months remaining.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved Leon County's declaration for individual assistance, which means many of those 700 households can receive financial assistance in rebuilding. Smith recommended that everyone with damage call (800) 621-FEMA (800-621-3362) to determine whether they qualify for assistance.

There is little residents can do to prevent flood damage from a storm - except prepare to deal with its aftermath.

One source for such preparations is the Capital Area Chapter of the American Red Cross, which publishes an annual Hurricane Survival Guide. The 16-page guide is available online (www.redcross.tallytown.com).

Among its suggestions are things Finch learned from Fay: Keep a list handy of important phone numbers you'll need in an emergency, and make a list of items "you don't ever want to lose - then take care of them," he said. "I lost a lot of heirloom photos, and all it would have taken to save them was place them in zip-lock bags."

Another good move would be to buy flood insurance, even if you don't live in a flood-prone area. Michael Grimes, spokesman for State Farm insurance company, said 20 to 25 percent of floods occur in "low to moderate hazard" areas. He said many homeowners dismiss flood insurance as too expensive, yet the average cost is $400 annually.

Preparations and insurance, though, can't stop floodwaters from entering your house - and when they do, they cause significant damage.

Restoration companies can use water extractors, humidifiers and chemicals to reduce repair costs. But when water enters your home - whether from flooding, trees crashing through the roof or sewer-line seepage - you may have to replace floors, low cabinets and carpeting. Part or all of any walls touched by water may have to be replaced to eliminate mold and structural weakening. All fabric-covered furniture - plus children's toys touched by potentially contaminated floodwaters - should be tossed.

"Rising water can be nasty," said Jay White, owner of the local Paul Davis Restoration franchise. "(Flooding) is a restorable event. But you need to get (a professional) in there right away."