Since floods are nature’s most frequent natural disaster, maybe you have even survived a flood. You probably recall this year’s raging floods in California or the flooding in the Midwest in the summer of 1993, which many called the “flood of the century.” Even though major floods are reported in the national news, many small yet serious floods occur that are are not nationally reported. That’s why it’s important for your to know what to do in case a flood threatens you, your family, and your home.
Find out if you live in an area that has had floods in the past, because that’s a good clue that there might be another one. If you live in a coastal area, you know floods often occur there. You also should know if you live downstream from a dam, dike, or levee, because you might be subject to a flash flood (see “Flash Floods,” at right). Your local emergency management team, at the American Red Cross or police or fire department, should be able to tell you about floods in your area.
Next, you need to know what kinds of warnings are issued from the National Weather Service:
* A flood forecast means heavy rains may cause rivers to overflow. You should start getting prepared for a flood as explained below.
* A Flood warning means flooding is certain to occur and tells you where and when. You probably will be advised to evacuate your home.
* A flash flood watch means heavy rains are likely to cause fast flooding.
* A flash flood warning means flash flooding is certain to come your way and you must evacuate immediately.
Preparing for an Impering Flood
You and your family need to know what to do if a flood is forecast in your area. The family car should be filled with gas so you can evacuate quickly. Figure out, ahead of time, a safe route to higher ground where floodwaters won’t reach. Stock up on emergency supplies to protect your personal safety, such as a portable radio and batteries to receive emergency instructions. Make sure you know which station to turn to in case of emergency in your area. You’ll also need emergency cooking equipment, drinking water, and food that doesn’t need to be refrigerated. First aid supplies always are necessary. Flashlights and batteries are important, too, because electricity will be turned off during a flood . If flash floods are frequent, a raft and life preservers are a necessity. Keep these supplies together in a tote bag or box, preferably a waterproof one.
Other supplies can help protect your house and property, like plywood and plastic sheeting. Board up the windows if possible, and bring outdoor possessions into the house.
You need to move any valuables such as jewelry, papers, and photos to high ground or take them with you if you evacuate. It’s important to turn off electric, water, and gas utilities, because if the house gets flooded with water, these can result in deadly electrocution or in an explosion when the power returns.
If You Get Caught in a Flood
Many people die in floods because they underestimate the dangers. They may think, “How’s a little bit of water going to hurt me?”
If you are caught in a flood and you are in a building, move to the highest floor or roof and wait to be rescued. If you are in a car, don’t continue to drive on a flooded road. “Hydroplaning” causes cars to slide on even a few inches of water, and you can skid into flooded fields or rivers. In addition, the water current may be stronger than you realize. Get out of the car go to high ground, and wait to be rescued.
Beware of downed electrical wires because water conducts electricity. Never step into flood water near an electrical source because you could die of electrocution. In fact, after drowning, electrocution is the most common cause of deaths in floods.
After a Flood
Don’t re-enter your home until the police say it’s OK, and make sure to honor police barricades in your neighborhood because they’re there for your safety.
Once you are allowed inside, don’t turn on the utilities or use any appliances unless they’ve been checked by a professional. You’ll need to boil your drinking water, because there often is contamination from broken water mains after a flood. Don’t eat any food or take any medicine that got wet from flood waters–throw them out.
Beware of electrocution inside your house as well. Water conducts electricity like a wire, so if you step into water that has a frayed wire anywhere in it, it’s like touching a live wire. The only way to be safe is to shut off all power to the house first. Many people think that wearing rubber boots will protect you from electrocution; it won’t.
It’s ironic that water, which is necessary for life, can cause such havoc. Too little of it, and we have a drought. Too much, and we have floods. Nature swings her pendulum, and sometimes we get caught in her extremes. Natural disasters such as floods make us all aware of how fragile and special life can be. Being prepared for the worst helps to protect us, our loved ones, and our prized possessions.
For more information on floods, contact: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Federal Center Plaza 500 C Street SW Washington, DC 20472
Most of the time, floods develop over days from the long periods of rain which cause rivers to overflow their banks. In contrast, flash floods come on very quickly, in just a few minutes, with no warning. They can be caused by intense storms dropping large amounts of rain within a brief period of time, but also they can be caused by a break in a dam, dike or levee.
Flash floods can happen anytime and in any community. The speed and intensity of flash flood waters can tear out trees, destroy buildings, and wipe out bridges. Walls of water can climb 10 to 20 feet high and carry a deadly cargo of debris.
If you think a flash flood is coming your way, go to a safe area immediately, without waiting for officials to give you instructions.