Floods and Flash Flooding
At one time we always thought of spring as being flood season. But lately, if you watch the national weather and news at all, Mother Nature is very opinionated and strikes when she wishes. Just ask Houston, TX. WV. NC. SC. LA. OK. NE. MN. IA. The list is ongoing. We are not just having flash floods, but ongoing flooding for weeks. Even though you may not be in these locations, you are still impacted in the cost of goods you consume. This type of emergency is one of the most common hazards in the United States that can be felt locally or have a larger impact on cities and even states. The damage done by floods does not only encompass damaged homes and property but can displace families permanently - even in the safety of your home. I have heard countless interview of individuals stating they had been through many floods this is the first.... Just when you think you are safe, you are not.
Building a good plan comes with good education and understanding how the threat could impact your home and family. You must understand the warning signs without warning from the weather channel and authorities. Nature will in fact talk to you. You just have to listen. By the time authorities warn you to get out, it may be too late or you could be trapped on your evacuation route from the threat. Then what? In past training classes I have heard a common statement made in "I've lived here my entire life and I never flood so why should I plan." Shall I say more?
I think the statement "All Floods Are Not Created Equal" is fair and on target.
Those that live in low lying areas or floodplains are more susceptible to flooding. Different types of flooding can affect these floodplains. There are floods that can develop slowly, giving people time to prepare, and evacuate, if necessary; and there are floods that can develop quickly, sometimes in just a few minutes and without any visible signs of rain.
- River Flooding - Flooding along rivers can occur seasonally from melting snow, high rainfall, decaying hurricanes or intense rainstorms that swell river beds. I'm always amazed at how fast what appears to be small water passages and how they rapidly increase in size and flooding. Two excellent examples would be the Elk River outside of Charleston, WV, near the community of Pinch and in Greenbrier County, WV, Howard Creek through White Sulphur Springs and Caldwell, WV. Recent history shows major flooding, loss of life, property, and relocation for extended periods. In the latter case, the water rose so fast families couldn't get out and the loss of life took place.
- Coastal Flooding - Tropical storms, hurricanes, and tsunamis can drive water inland thus creating flooding. This type of flooding can block escape routes thus making it impossible to flee. If you want more proof of this, just watch the attempted evacuations from south Florida.
- Urban Flooding - As land is converted from fields and woodlands, it loses its ability to absorb large amounts of rainfall. According to the United States Search and Rescue, urbanization increases runoff by 2 to 6 times what would occur on normal terrain. During this type of flooding, streets can fill up with water causing river-like conditions. Often times post surface minding and fracking can cause this to occur if the land is not recovered and returned to normal. The coal fields of WV endured much of this in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
- Flash floods - Flash flooding often has a dangerous wall of roaring water that carries rocks, mud, and other debris and can sweep away most things in its path. This type of flooding can occur due to intense rainstorms lasting longer periods of time or can occur due to a breach in a levee or overflow of a river. Typically, flash flooding occurs around streams, rivers, canals, storm drains, flood control channels, canyon and caves. If you have never experienced a flash flood, you don't want to do so. It hits fast and with furious rage as it rips through its area.
You should know every potential flood hazard no matter where you live, but especially if you live in a low-lying area, near water or downstream from a dam. Even very small streams, gullies, creeks, culverts, dry stream beds, or low-lying ground that appear harmless in dry weather can flood. Every state is at risk from this hazard.
Familiarize yourself and your family with these terms to help identify a flood hazard:
- Flood Watch- Flooding is possible. You should have a NOAA radio in your preparedness gear. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information.
- Flash Flood Watch- Flash flooding is possible. Be prepared to move to higher ground; listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information. Make sure your path to higher grounds can be used if flooding begins.
- Flood Warning- Flooding is occurring or will occur soon; if advised to evacuate, do so immediately.
- Flash Flood Warning- A flash flood is occurring; seek higher ground on foot immediately.
How to Prepare for Floods
Is it possible? This can be very difficult, but possible. When you think about preparing for how much flooding your home may have. Think the worst and prepare for the worst. Better to prepare yourself and family for the worst and hope for the best. On your side of the wall it could appear to be a slow trickle. But, on the other side of the wall it could be more water waiting to just bust through the wall. What you see is not always what you get. Your location could determine how much water you may get. Are you on a flood plain? As I previously stated, plan for the worst case scenario which is to evacuate and plan for displacement. Focus on food, water, shelter and security. Your life safety is a given.
Evacuation - You need to take some basic steps before you evacuate for life safety sakes. Turn off utilities at the main switches or valves if instructed to do so. Disconnect electrical appliances. Do not touch electrical equipment if you are wet or standing in water. Ouch. Using your evacuation checklist and keep your bug out bags on stand. Have your vehicle bug out ready as much as possible. Remember, you may have to ditch the vehicle along the way so be ready to grab your gear and go mobile on foot. Additionally, have your important documents in place, or backed up on a flash drive. You should keep a bag with all backup copies of your personal information ready to go when you run out the door. Consider prepacking plastic floatable tote boxes with several days of food, water, shelter and blankets, first aid, and pet supplies as needed. Tape the lids closed once your packing is completed. If you have to go on foot, fix your totes with some type of pull device such as rope or strap so it remains closed and can float while being pulled.
NOTE: When you fail to prepare and/or can't get out emergency responders must now risk their life to come get you. You have lost control of your own survival and are dependent on the system to rescue you. Those who feel that they will just ride out the storm and take their chances should be informed that if your city or town is under forced evacuations, according to the Disaster Evacuation and Displacement Policy, the government has the right to force someone out of their home:
"Dependent upon state and local law, [the local executive] has extraordinary powers to suspend local laws and ordinances, such as to establish curfew, direct evacuations, and, in coordination with the local health authority, to order a quarantine."
Think about this. Over 27 million people a year have lost their homes to natural disasters over the last decade. A majority of those affected were living in developing countries, however, disasters in America were also counted in this number. When families are displaced, they are essentially starting over. Helping families get assistance through emergency organizations can help them start rebuilding their lives. Knowing these organizations ahead of time can be helpful in dealing with the aftermath of the disaster. Having these relief organizations and their phone numbers in your emergency binder will be beneficial in staying organized. As crazy as it may sound, does your home owners insurance cover floods? You may want to ask.
Here are a few tips to help avoid possible property damage during flooding:
- Avoid building in a flood plain unless you elevate and reinforce your home.
- Elevate the furnace, water heater, and electric panel if susceptible to flooding.
- Install "check valves" in sewer traps to prevent flood water from backing up into the drains of your home.
- Construct barriers (levees, beams, floodwalls) to stop floodwater from entering the building.
- Seal walls in basements with waterproofing compounds to avoid seepage.
- If time allows, and you anticipate widespread flooding, build a homemade levee with these directions.
- If you have a basement in the home, store any valuables or keepsakes up high to prevent any water damage.
During a Flood
If a flood is likely in your area, you should:
- Listen to the radio or television for information.
- Be aware that flash flooding can occur. If there is any possibility of a flash flood, move immediately to higher ground. Do not wait for instructions to move.
- Be aware of streams, drainage channels, canyons, and other areas known to flood suddenly. Flash floods can occur in these areas with or without such typical warnings as rain clouds or heavy rain.
If you must leave your home, remember these evacuation tips:
- Do not walk through moving water. Six inches of moving water can make you fall. If you have to walk in water, walk where the water is not moving. Use a stick to check the firmness of the ground in front of you. Don't let rising water sneak up behind you.
- Do not drive into flooded areas. If flood waters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground if you can do so safely. You and the vehicle can be swept away. If you enter the water, make sure you watch for floating debris.
Driving Flood Facts
The following are important points to remember when driving in flood conditions:
- Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars causing loss of control and possible stalling. Have a plan and be ready to engage Plan B.
- A foot of water will float many vehicles. If this occurs, you are in trouble. You no longer have the ability to control your vehicle or direction.
- Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles including sport utility vehicles (SUV's) and pick-ups.
After a Flood
The following are guidelines for the period following a flood:
- Listen for news reports to learn whether the community's water supply is safe to drink. Have and keep two or more water filter sources such as a life straw, or Berkey water bottle.
- Avoid floodwaters; water may be contaminated by oil, gasoline, or raw sewage. Water may also be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines. You do not want to consume contaminated water.
- Avoid moving water.
- Be aware of areas where flood waters have receded. Roads may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car.
- Stay away from downed power lines, and report them to the power company. If communication capabilities are down, you may have to wait.
- Return home only when authorities indicate it is safe.
- Stay out of any building if it is surrounded by flood waters.
- Use extreme caution when entering buildings; there may be hidden damage, particularly in foundations. If you don't know, have it checked. A loose foundation could continue to receive damage from moving flood waters.
- Service damaged septic tanks, cesspools, pits, and leaching systems as soon as possible. Damaged sewage systems are serious health hazards. Hygiene is always critical when dealing with raw sewage issues.
- Clean and disinfect everything that got wet. Mud left from floodwater can contain sewage and chemicals. Keep or obtain lots of Clorox for cleaning and disinfecting your property.