Floods happen slowly, typically with plenty of warning. Spring thaws and heavy rainfall from tropical storms and hurricanes are the usually the culprits. National and local news stations closely watch the progress of major storms, predicting possible paths through modeling. The models help inform us of potential danger when a path is in line with a city or town. Everyone has a TV or smartphone and should know when a flood is coming and be able to prepare.
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As much as some floods can be predictable and detoured via sandbags, they can also turn wild, especially in urban environments that are not prepared to handle or have not experienced heavy flooding in the past. The Gulf Coast, the New York/New Jersey region and, most recently, the Carolinas are a few sad examples of areas caught off guard by the extreme winds and rains that bring devastating floods. Floods turn violent and fast when dams and levees fail or an ice-jammed river suddenly dislodges. That is when water can rise quickly without warning. These flash floods are the most dangerous since they are less predictable.
Floods knock out power, contaminate water supplies and make roads impassable. These high water levels are also often slow to leave. High water can linger for days if not a week or more at a time.
According to the National Weather Service, the 10-year average of deaths in the U.S. caused by floods is 71. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that over 50 percent of all flood-related drownings occur when a vehicle is driven into flood waters. The next highest percentage of flood-related deaths is caused by people walking into or near flood waters. In addition to staying away from dangerous flood waters, here’s what to do when the water levels rise near you.
In Harm’s Way
Your prep work should include placing all of your possessions above the high water mark, especially electronics and furniture. At least place everything you can up off the floor during a flood. Also make sure you get to high ground when authorities say to evacuate, taking with you any important documents you might need in the flood’s aftermath. Another thing to remember is to make arrangements for pets and neighbors in need.
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Drinking water is valuable in a flood situation since private wells and public water supplies can be contaminated. Flood water will test positive for everything from fecal matter and lawn chemicals to gasoline. Make sure you have safe drinking water with you in your bug-out kit.
Make sure you have enough food for at least three days. Food that does not require electric power or gas to prepare will be the most useful. Also have plenty of batteries and flashlights on hand. During a blackout, apartment buildings can have dark hallways even during the day. A hand-crank emergency radio is also a good idea to help keep you informed.
Do not try to ride out the flood where you are. Faster-moving water can make a two-story house float like a canoe until it dissolves into splintered wood and sheetrock. Staying put in the second story is not an option. If you live in a high-rise building, you will more than likely be saved from the worst, but that doesn’t mean you are high and dry. If you’re trying to evacuate, stay out of the subway system since only submarines will be able to navigate it. In a case where you are slow to respond to warnings or events have caused you to delay your bug-out to higher ground, carefully consider if you can drive or walk through the flood water. It just takes 2 feet of fast-moving water to sweep away most vehicles, and only 6 inches of rushing water to knock you down and sweep you away. Your SUV or truck is not designed to travel through water, and if you chance it, your engine could stall and your SUV will be in danger of being overtaken by the water. Never drive through flood waters.
If you are on foot, be aware that debris can be hidden under the murky water. Use your feet to search for debris as you wade carefully through it. If the water is moving fast, use a roof, a tree or whatever is above the water to hang on to. A gallon of water weighs about 8 pounds. The math is simple: Multiply 8 pounds by several thousand gallons. Flood water will bash you into anything in the way, try to drown you, and will continue to do so until it slows down and finds its level.
With these tips in mind, the next time the water levels rise in your area, you will be able to survive. Regardless of how prepared you are, if officials call for evacuation, be ready to leave immediately.
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This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Spring 2016 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.