Anxiety over flood events lingers for years

THE EFFECTS of basement flooding go far beyond property damage and include mental and physical stress years after the event, a new study in Ontario has found.

The research, conducted by the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation and funded by health insurer Manulife and Intact Financial, looked at homeowners in Burlington, Ont., following a storm in August 2014 that flooded 3,500 homes.

Blair Feltmate, head of the Intact Centre, told Thompson’s that early on in the research it was clear that homeowners were eager to talk about their experiences.

“Going door-to-door in flooded versus non-flooded neighbourhoods . . . almost (half of) households agreed to a 15- to 20-minute interview to discuss their flood experience and often the Intact researchers were invited into homes, where they were shown flood water marks in basements, pictures of the flooded basement,” Mr. Feltmate said.

“In short, people are exasperated with flooding. They feel hopeless, anxious and highly frustrated and for our survey, they wanted to vent.”

He said that although the study area was in Burlington, the results can be extrapolated nationally.

“The timing of this report is fortuitous given recent floods in New Brunswick, B.C., and Windsor, Ont., where in the aftermath of flooding the mental stress and lost time from work is being experienced first-hand by thousands of homeowners,” Mr. Feltmate said.

Manulife’s leader of mental health specialists said being prepared for unexpected expenses is important to deal with issues as they arise.

“By strengthening the psychological resiliency of Canadians through programs focused on mental health awareness, prevention, intervention and recovery, we’re preparing our clients, their employees and families with the tools they need to thrive,” Georgia Pomaki said.

Of all the extreme weather events in Canada, flooding is the costliest, causing millions of dollars of property damage, the Intact Centre study found.

This study is the first one exploring the impact related to time off work and mental health.

It found that in 56% of households with at least one person working, flooding led to time off work for an average of seven days per flooded household, which is 10 times the Ontario average for non-flooded households. And anxiety about the event lingered years after the event.

The study found that 48% of respondents from flooded households were worried when it rained compared to 3% of those who had not experienced an event.
Within the first 30 says after the flood, 47% of inhabitants of flooded homes were worried and stressed compared to 11% of those who had never experienced a flood.

Mr. Feltmate said the study sheds new light on the impact of flood on Canadians.

“This study adds a new dimension to our understanding of the pernicious impacts of flooding. Long-term mental stress, combined with lost time from work, underscore the need for all levels of government to act with haste to promote home flood protection across Canada.”

Researchers said the study’s findings emphasize the importance of taking action on flood risk, both at the personal and government levels.

“Homeowners should talk with their insurance provider to understand their coverage, ensure they are financially prepared for emergencies, and take action to reduce their risk around their home,” the Intact Centre said. “At a national level, current efforts underway to reduce flood risk must continue immediately.”

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