Disinfecting duties. If there is sewage in the water (or you just want to take precautions), clean with a solution of one part chlorine bleach to nine parts water. Use rock salt (one cup per gallon of water) on plaster and painted drywall, but not on concrete floors, which the salt will damage.
Rug redemption. If a carpet has been soaked with water and sewage, ditch it. Wear rubber gloves and be careful not to scrape your skin, to avoid infection. For slight water damage, remove the carpet if possible, roll it up, and take it outside. Drape it over a sawhorse or chairs so it will drain, but don't let the rug dry this way - it might stretch out of shape. Once the water drains, lay the carpet on the ground. Be sure it's dry before bringing it back inside - residual moisture can breed mildew and mold. Toss the carpet pad and wash the floors. Have the carpet cleaned professionally or rent a steam cleaner.
If the carpet must stay in place, use a wet-dry vac to remove mud and water.
Walls and floors. You may need to remove baseboards to ventilate wall cavities. Unless moisture there is allowed to dry, odors will linger. After you have removed the baseboards, drill holes a few inches above the floor between the studs to drain water. Any insulation might have to be removed, dried and replaced - it's useless when wet, can breed mold and mildew, and will stink.
Plastered walls and washable vinyl wallpaper can be cleaned. Allow plaster to dry thoroughly before washing. Use a mild soap and water to clean painted walls. If you have to repaint, wait a couple of months for the walls to dry completely, or new paint will blister.
Clean woodwork with a stiff brush and non-sudsing detergent while still wet. Wood floors will buckle, so leave them alone to dry. Open doors and windows on non-humid days and maintain an indoor temperature of about 55 degrees, or the wood will warp or shrink.
Inspect the furnace. Heating systems exposed to flooding should be checked by a pro. The chimney and smoke box could be clogged with dirt, and the furnace could explode. Check where the chimney meets the foundation, to ensure mortar hasn't washed away.
Preserving papers and photos. Drain water by placing upright in a box, separated by wax paper. Stand books up on their spines. Place papers in plastic bags and store in the freezer until you are ready to deal with them. If photos are stuck together, don't pull apart. Wet them again, then try separating, so emulsion isn't damaged. Clean photos carefully in a photo tray, and place between clean blotters to absorb the water, changing blotters frequently. To dry, hang on a clothesline or run a fan nearby.
Want Alan J. Heavens' advice on a project or purchase? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to him at The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101.