There are few things that cause as much destruction and distress as flooding. It is an almost surreal event as flood waters rise with a seemingly inevitable end. There is no stopping its march forward, which leaves most people feeling powerless.

Flooding can occur anywhere in the United States. From flash floods in the deserts of the Southwest to spring flooding in the Midwest, it is something everyone needs to know more about.


Rising Waters

There are many types of flooding, and no area is exempt from its dangers. The most common type is overbank flooding. This is generally the flooding that comes to mind when flooding is discussed. It is generally based around rivers or streams that begin to exceed their capacity because of heavy rain or melting snow. The waters eventually leave the confines of the river and spread to low-lying areas. The water appears to slowly expand as it continues to flow. This type of flooding is common in the Midwest and can cover huge areas. Even in mountainous areas this type of flooding can occur. In 2013, flooding in Colorado affected over 2,380 square miles.

“Storm surge flooding claims more lives than any other feature of coastal storms.”

Flash floods are more common in dry areas of the country and develop very quickly. The hard, sunbaked ground in areas like Arizona creates fast-moving waterways for rains falling in mountains and valleys. Along with fast-moving water, flash floods carry debris that accumulates in dry stream beds. These flood waters rise very quickly and move much faster than any other type of flood water, making them particularly dangerous.

In colder parts of the country there is a phenomenon known as ice dam flooding. Cold temperatures freeze water, creating significant ice. When large amounts of precipitation are mixed in, it begins to push the ice and create a natural dam. If the dam breaks apart, the water behind it rushes out into the surrounding area. At that point it is very similar in nature to a flash flood. The dangerous debris in this type of flood, however, contains large chunks of ice that can actually destroy any structures and vehicles in its path.

For those who live near the ocean there is always the danger of coastal flooding. Normally connected to serious storms, storm surges can reach as high as 25 feet. This, combined with strong waves, creates a dangerous situation for those already battling a storm. Storm surge flooding claims more lives than any other feature of coastal storms.

Aftermath Hazards

After flood waters begin to subside, emergency officials will notify residents when it is safe to go back to their homes. Take great care when you start to make your way back home. Flood waters have the ability to completely change a landscape and things may be unfamiliar. Watch for downed power lines and other dangers. Enter your house carefully and inspect it for damage. If you live in areas with wildlife, take care when walking around the home. Fleeing animals may have ended up inside your home as a refuge from the flood. This is especially true for snakes, so take the time to inspect everything carefully.

It is important to contact your insurance agent as soon as possible to help get the process started. To many people’s shock, most general homeowners or renters insurance policies do not include floods. It is essential that you confirm your policy covers things such as floods, especially if you live in flood plain areas. FEMA manages the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which makes federally backed flood insurance available in communities that agree to adopt and enforce flood plain management ordinances to reduce future flood damage. Most insurance policies require a 30-day waiting period before they become valid, so plan ahead. The cost of the insurance will be based on many factors. The two most important are the value of your property and the historical records of flooding. Take time to document your losses for insurance purposes. It will be helpful to the agent if you can provide as much information as possible. This, along with the inventory you did before the flood, will expedite the process and get you your insurance settlement much more quickly.

Contact your local or state public health department to see if your water supply might be contaminated. You may need to boil or treat your water before use. Do not use water that could be contaminated to wash dishes, brush teeth, prepare food or wash your hands. Dress in protective clothes and boots as you clean your home. Local officials will be able to provide information on what to do with discarded household items. You can also get basic cleaning equipment from the Red Cross to help you get back to normal. Dump sandbags but try to keep the sand for possible future use. If your losses are significant, contact local emergency officials. Depending on the scope of the damage, a federal disaster declaration may have been made. If this is the case, then federal funds will be available to help you.

Flooding can be a destructive and life-altering event. What was once your comfortable and happy home one day can become a collection of mud and destruction the next. Flood water will penetrate and fill every space, and with it comes immediate as well as delayed destruction. From swept-away homes to those that are now filled with mold, few can escape a flood’s destructive nature. By being prepared you can better protect yourself and your home from the dark waters that expand out in the destructive flow of floods.

This article was originally published in SURVIVOR’S EDGE ™ Winter 2015 magazine. Print and Digital Subscriptions available here.

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