COLUMBIA — As the skies opened Wednesday afternoon, Steve and Michelle Windmoeller stood inside their house as the little creek behind it began to fill with rainwater.
Within minutes, a trickle had turned into a raging river. All of a sudden, the basement doors opened to a rush of water. All they could do was run for higher ground.
Upstairs, they watched the water rise 4 feet above the floor and their furniture float past the stairway.
Steve Windmoeller recounted this story Thursday as he chopped up pieces of soggy furniture. He had a Dumpster crammed with soggy sofas, chairs and other items that had been ruined by the storm.
Windmoeller was one of many Columbia homeowners coping with the aftermath of a thunderstorm that dumped almost 3 inches of water in different parts of the city in just a few hours Wednesday.
A creek also overflowed behind Liz Doubet's home near West Boulevard, filling her basement with water and damaging the drywall and the floor.
The storm also broke tree branches, covered roadways with water, strained the city's stormwater system and carried trash far from where it had been deposited for pickup.
Zac Early of Westwinds Court in southwest Columbia said dirty diapers in the trash were a problem for him.
"Our trash was carried down the street and dumped into a gutter," he said. "We had to fish out our dirty diapers just so the city could pick it up."
City crews worked late cleaning up debris after floodwaters subsided on public streets.
"We haven't had any significant damage," said Jill Stedem, spokeswoman for the Public Works Department, who added that the city plans for this kind of trouble every year.
Still, she said crews were out cleaning fallen trees and loose dirt until 10 p.m. Wednesday.
The city budgeted $679,000 for fiscal year 2010 for maintenance, she said, which includes snow plowing.
Crews also worked to ensure that storm drains and culverts — pipes used to channel water — remained clear.
"The biggest issue is public safety," Stedem said.
Businesses that clean flooded basements have been busy this week also.
“Last night was a really heavy night for us,” Adam Kinser, a ServiceMaster Clean employee, said Thursday. “We were working until midnight and then went back out this morning.”
Kinser said he received a steady stream of calls since 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Service was provided on a first-come, first-served basis, he said.
“First, we scope out the situation,” Kinser said. “We find out what is affected, where it is affected, move things out of the area and photograph the area in case there is litigation.”
He said homeowners are always asked to contact their insurance company, even though flood damage is often not covered.
Kinser said he repairs damage according to industry standards written by the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification.
“If you haven’t handled it before, or don’t know how to handle it, call a professional,” he said. “We are always willing to answer questions.”
“I don’t know how many houses I have walked into with an elderly couple vacuuming water out with a normal vacuum,” Kinser said. “That is not a good idea.”
The cost of flood damage can only be covered if there is additional flood insurance, said Amanda Greene with Mike Messer’s Shelter Insurance in Columbia.
Most homeowners insurance typically covers standard perils, such as fire, and flooding is not considered one of them unless it is sewer-related, she said.
“It really depends on the source of the water, if it is or is not covered by standard homeowner insurance,” Greene said. “Typically, if the water damage is caused from water outside coming into the house, it is not covered, but if it is sewer-related it very well may be.”
Because of recent storms, flood insurance inquiries are becoming more common, she said.
“There have been more inquiries about flood insurance in the last few months because of the heavy summer storms generating more water,” Greene said.
Melanie Barnes, Mallory Benedict, Sara Cox, Raven Maragh, Emily Morris and Stephanie Murphy contributed to this report.