TACOMA, Wash. – January 13, 2009 (The NewsTribune) -- People bailing out their basements from last week’s flooding are exhausted, and so are those in the business of water damage cleanup.

“If I could sleep for 20 consecutive minutes, I’d be OK,” said Meigon Smith, operations manager of Washington Water Damage & Cleaning Services, based in Kent.

“It started out with the big freeze and pipes were bursting,” Smith said Monday. “Then when everything melted, storm drains were backing up into people’s basements, rivers were flooding, water mains were breaking, gutters were clogged.

“It all travels to the lowest point,” she said. “Wednesday night I had 37 people call with losses with just groundwater seeping into basements from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m.”

And it hasn’t let up. Several South Sound businesses that offer water damage cleanup reported an overwhelming demand.

“It’s really a combination of the freeze which … as soon as it started to thaw out, we were at capacity,” said Rick Bevins, owner of Auburn-based Restorx of Washington. “We started to catch our breath just barely, then with the floods we’re getting 300 phone calls a day.”

Restorx employs 40 people, and Bevins said they’re all working seven days a week, sometimes 12-18 hours a day. Smith said she has three crews of two people each, and is using about eight on-call workers.

At prices between $1,500 and $2,500 a day, most people can’t afford it. Water damage caused by flooding isn’t covered by standard homeowner’s insurance.

“Since Wednesday I think we’re in around 20 homes,” Smith said. “We’ve passed on I don’t know how many. When a lot of people get the price estimate they just break into tears. So I try to talk through what they need to do.”

The pros offered this advice:

Pull out wet carpet, padding, furniture, drywall, insulation – anything that’s porous and wet. Get it, and any remaining storm water, out of the house. Treat the area with an antimicrobial solution, then get fans and dehumidifiers going. Don’t try to rebuild until everything is dry.

Having a flooded home and ruined possessions is a vulnerable time, so remember to take steps to protect yourself from unscrupulous people offering to help rebuild.

“Right now your best electricians, plumbers and roofers are probably very busy,” said Kristin Alexander, spokeswoman for the state attorney general. “If someone’s going around door-to-door looking for work, don’t use that person. That’s a bad sign. Legitimate contractors rarely go door-to-door. They have enough work.”