In May this year, 31 people died during flash flooding in Texas and Oklahoma. In September, 16 were killed in Utah from flash flooding. These disasters are finally waking people up to what a serious risk flash flooding is. If you live in a flood zone – which could be almost any lowland area – you need to learn what to do during flash flooding.
Prepare BEFORE a Flash Flood Occurs
By definition, a flash flood occurs swiftly without any real warning. The National Weather Service warns that flash flooding can occur within minutes of excessive rainfall. So, while it is good to know what to do during flash flooding occurs, survival has a lot to do with pre-planning.
There are many things you can do to mitigate the damages from flash flooding, and also ensure you survive the aftermath.
- Flood Insurance: Flooding isn’t typically covered by your homeowner’s insurance. If you are in a flood zone, consider getting flood insurance.
- Safeguard Your Home: You can take steps to protect your home from flood damage, such as by putting your electrical panel, furnace and water on a higher floor.
- Install a Sump Pump: A sump pump is a cheap machine which kicks on if water spills into your basement. It pumps the water outside and can help mitigate the amount of water which gets into your home and damages.
- Create a Communication Plan with Your Family: Every family should have a communication plan in case of emergencies. The communication plan must include a meeting point, a backup meeting point, and alternative ways of making contact (don’t rely on your cell phones or normal telephone line to be working).
- Put Important Documents Into Waterproof Bags: If you need to evacuate, you will have to bring your vital documents with you. Have these ready in waterproof bags or a waterproof lockbox.
- Stockpile Survival Supplies: Every home should have bottled water and non-perishable foods ready in case of a disaster, along with first aid and hygiene items. Read what items to stockpile
- Pack a 72 Hour Bag: Also known as a Bug Out Bag, this bag should contain all of the supplies you need to survive through an emergency like a flash flood. Read what to pack in your 72 hour bag here.
FEMA publishes a guide called Protecting Your Home And Property From Flood Damage with some tips about how you can prevent property damage and personal risk from flooding. Click the link to download the guide.
What to Do During Flash Flooding
If You Are In Your Home during Flash Flooding
Let’s hope that you are at home if flash flooding occurs. And let’s hope that your home has more than one level! Generally, people are safe in their homes during flash flooding. Here are some of the steps you should take at home during flash flooding.
- Turn Off Electric: There is a big risk of electrocution during flooding. To be safe, turn off the electric breaker. If there is standing water in the room where your electrical breaker is, then try to turn it off by using a wooden broom handle while standing on dry ground. If you cannot reach the electrical breaker without going through water, then don’t touch it!
- Turn Off Gas and Water: Gas and plumbing lines can get damaged during flooding. To play it safe, turn off these as well.
- Sandbags Over Drains: One big problem during flash flooding is that sewage mains overfill and start to back up. Then dirty sewage water will come up out of drains and into your home. To prevent this problem, you can put sandbags over all bathroom, kitchen, and laundry drains, and in the toilets too.
- Move Items to Higher Ground: If water seems like it will come into your home, move valuable items to higher ground. You can also use bricks, wooden blocks, or pieces of cardboard to lift furniture off the floor.
If You Are in Your Car
This is really the worst case scenario, mostly because people have a false sense of security when they are in their car. Weather.gov warns that most flash flood deaths occur when people are swept away in their vehicles!
- 6 inches of water will reach the bottom of most cars and cause them to lose control and maybe stall
- 12 inches of water will float many cars
- 24 inches of rushing water will carry away most vehicles, including SUVs and trucks!
If you are caught in your vehicle during flash flooding, abandon your car right away and immediately move to higher ground. Yes, you are going to get wet – but you’ve got a better chance of surviving outside of your car then in the flood zone.
If water has already started to swell outside of your car, then you won’t be able to open the door because of the pressure difference. You should try to evacuate through a window. If you can’t get a window open, then wait until some water has gotten into the car (yes, this will be terrifying). Once water is inside the car, then there won’t be as much of a pressure difference and you should be able to open the door. This is a terrible scenario because you will have to float through the rushing water – but it is still safer to be outside of your car.
If you are in your car but on higher ground, stay there. NEVER DRIVE THROUGH FLOOD WATER! It is better to spend the night in your car then get swept away by the flood water. Be prepared by having emergency supplies in your vehicle. Read what to pack in your car emergency kit here.
If You Are Outside during Flash Flooding
Get to higher ground and stay there. NEVER TRY TO SWIM THROUGH FLOOD WATER. It is better to stay put until you can be rescued. You may be cold, wet, and hungry – but it is better than drowning.
If You Get Swept Away by the Flood Water
Let’s hope that you never have to use this advice. But, if you are caught in the flood water, DO NOT TRY TO SWIM THROUGH IT. The rushing water is stronger than you realize!
Instead, you should lie on your back so your feet are positioned downstream. Use your arms to help you steer and navigate through the water. With your feet downstream, you reduce the risk of smashing your head against a heavy object. Do your best to steer your way towards higher ground. You can see how it is done in this video.