Facts about Floods and Surviving Them
What Should You Do in Case of a Flood?
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Tornados, hurricanes and earthquakes come on fast and strong. But floods can be just as devastating. Learning facts about floods before they happen can save your life, livestock and the homestead you’ve worked so long to build.
The Teton Dam stood tall in the mid-70s. Its intent was to provide a constant summer water supply to several Idaho agricultural communities below. But it hit catastrophe the first time the reservoir filled. On June 5, 1976, a leak formed at 7:30 a.m. At 11:15, officials told the county sheriff’s office to evacuate downstream residents. Less than 45 minutes after that, the crest sagged and collapsed into the reservoir. Thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed within the towns of Wilford, Sugar City, Salem, Hibbard and Rexburg. Eighty percent of Rexburg structures were damaged, mainly because flood waters washed through a lumber yard, sending thousands of logs into town. Dozens hit a bulk gasoline storage tank, igniting it and sending flaming slicks across the racing water. The logs, lumber and fires nearly destroyed the city. By the end of the day, eleven people and 13,000 cattle died.
Residents only had minutes to prepare. Those that had established fire evacuation procedures could save their families and pets even if they didn’t have time to move livestock.
A broken dam doesn’t give residents much time to prepare. Seasonal flooding, which has happened before in certain waterways and will eventually happen again, is easier to predict. Most weather-related floods have warning signs even if the most devastating parts come on fast. Learn facts about floods so you know how to react if they happen. Building and maintaining a flood and fire evacuation plan as well as emergency essentials gives you an advantage for when seconds matter.
The Department of Homeland Security has a site dedicated to emergency preparedness. In addition to providing facts about floods, it tells you how to survive them.
Awareness of surrounding terrain can be the first indication of flood danger. Modern housing developments often build on floodplains because the ground is flat there, rather than on the rocky hills above the plain. But flat ground on either side of a waterway indicates that the land has flooded in the past. The floodplains appear vast but nature can dump enough water to fill the area. If your property sits on a floodplain, have an evacuation plan ready.
Long-term preparedness includes using heavy machinery to dig a flood path through your property, if local laws and codes allow. If you recognize a low point in terrain where water may sit, create a channel through which it can escape away from structures and livestock.
Create an emergency plan of action. Include areas of higher ground for animal relocation, such as corrals on hilltops. Plan where pesticides and other chemicals can relocate to stay above water. If you have grain stores, include locations where they can be moved to stay out of flood waters. Downloading a local weather app to a mobile device can provide instant alerts.
Within your home, keep emergency supplies for family and pets. A bug out bag list contains essentials necessary for each person for three entire days. If you have to evacuate quickly, you can grab the bags and family members before you flee.
Pay attention to weather reports. A “flood watch” is a warning to be aware. Often, flood watches give you time to move machinery, grain and chemicals to higher ground. Tie down lumber, fuel tanks, and other loose equipment or materials. Constructing higher ground, such as stacked bales of hay, allows livestock to climb atop to escape water. And though animals swim well, fences can prevent escape and keep the animals within swift and deadly currents. Try to move livestock to areas free from such obstructions. Within your home, move important items to the highest possible floor in case flood waters penetrate the house.
Turn on the radio or television to receive the latest updates. Know where to go. Check your emergency supplies list and have it ready. Attend to neighbors with disabilities, since warnings may not be heard by someone who is deaf. Elderly loved ones may not have technology to receive warnings or the ability to evacuate.
When the flood is imminent, disconnect electrical power to buildings which may be affected. Open doors and windows a few inches to equalize water pressure. You may have a mess to clean up afterward but it will prevent buildings from shifting under the force of the water.
Flood warnings mean the flood is either happening or will happen shortly. They are alerts to take action.
The Centers for Disease Control provides facts about floods and evacuation. If you anticipate evacuation, fill your vehicle’s gas tank and move bug out bags to the car. Make transportation arrangements if you have no vehicle. Collect important documents, identification, and cash storing them in waterproof material. Adjust thermostats on refrigerators and freezers to the coldest possible setting to help keep food good during your absence. Fill clean containers with drinking water. Secure your pets and find shelter for them if you can’t take them to evacuation centers. Most emergency shelters cannot take animals.
Remember family first. Keep them safe and secure, giving yourself time to reach higher ground before access can be cut off. If local emergency authorities instruct you to evacuate, do it. Follow any directions given. Turn off gas, electricity and water, but only if you have time. Take only essential items.
Sometimes it’s safest to stay put. If local emergency authorities warn you not to evacuate, fill sinks and bathtubs with clean water in case wells or municipal supplies later become compromised. Keep the television and radio monitored for weather updates and prepare to evacuate if instructions change.
During the Flood
Avoid walking or driving through flood waters. Even a couple feet of water can sweep a vehicle away. Since flash floods are the highest cause of weather-related deaths in the United States, stay away from canyons and creek beds during a flood warning. Avoid parking alongside streams.
If floodwaters surround your car but are not moving, escape the vehicle and move to higher ground. Do not move through running water. Remaining in the vehicle is safer than attempting escape.
Once you are safe, account for loved ones. Use available communication methods to assess their health and whereabouts. Remember to eat and sleep to maintain your own health while caring for others. Consider getting a tetanus booster before returning to flooded areas. Talk things out with people and encourage others to do the same as you endure the situation.
Do not return to your home until local authorities say it is safe. They could be aware of factors you are not, such as fallen power lines or the chance of another flood. Watch for debris and eroded roads as you travel home and avoid driving through areas that are still flooded.
Only re-enter damaged buildings after authorities decide they are safe. The authorities may refer to other personnel such as electricians to assess damage to structural or neighborhood power lines. Be aware of slippery surfaces and contaminants such as mold. Watch for rodents or snakes which may have taken refuge from the storm within the building. Consult local contractors if you need to pump water from basements, since the water may brace walls against wet soil outside, preventing collapse.
See to livestock that you may have been unable to evacuate. Call your veterinarian to acquire antibiotics for injured or sick animals. Get them to dry and sheltered locations.
Water may be contaminated with sewage or chemicals. Only use bottled water or water from safe public supplies until authorities deem yours is safe. Be aware of mosquitos which may be a problem even weeks after a flood, wearing insect repellant, long sleeves, and pants. Remove stagnant water if possible.
Take pictures of damage then call insurance agencies. Try to recover keepsakes, since many can be salvaged if they are recovered quickly.
Family members, especially children, will feel increased tension and react with anger, frustration, and even blame for emotional upset. Local extension offices can provide resources for dealing with stress during recovery.
Though they occur quickly and can be devastating, knowing facts about floods and developing emergency plans can help your family and homestead survive.
Do you have an emergency flood plan in place? If so, please share your tips below.