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How to Survive a Flood

by Paul-Martin Foss

The natural disasters that hit the United States this summer have impressed upon many people the need to be prepared for disaster. Particularly with hurricanes, the focus on preparing for severe storms has normally been on protecting against wind damage. But as Hurricane Harvey demonstrated, the damage from flooding can be even more severe. Here’s how to protect yourself against flooding.


Don’t Live in a Floodplain

The first rule to surviving a flood is not to live in a floodplain. Just because a flood hasn’t happened in years or decades doesn’t mean that it won’t happen in the future. If you don’t know whether or not you live in or near a floodplain, you can check out floodplain maps on FEMA’s website. If you’re in or near a floodplain, you need to be prepared to evacuate in the event of heavy rain, severe storms, or snowmelt.

Understand the Types of Floods You’ll Face

Different areas face different types of floods. On the coast you’ll face coastal flooding and storm surges. Near rivers and streams you can face river floods and snow melt flooding. If you’re on low ground you may face rain runoff that pools on your property. The type of flooding you’ll face determines how you’ll prepare to escape the flooding.

Purchase Flood Insurance

All the preparation in the world won’t save you in the event of a catastrophic flood. You can sandbag or build dams, but if the amount of water you’re facing overwhelms those defenses then you could still see your house flooded and your possessions destroyed. If you don’t have flood insurance, you face losing everything.


Protect Your Home From Water

If you expect flooding that won’t be terribly severe, you can take steps to keep water out of your house. Sandbags are the first means of defense in most cases of mild flooding and they can help divert water away from your abode. But if you’re at risk of having your house surrounded by floodwaters, it will take thousands of sandbags and many hours of work to properly emplace them.

It might be worth looking into an AquaDam to protect your house. You’ll have to make sure that you get an Aqua Dam that will be higher than the floodwaters, which could end up getting expensive. But there are enough instances of houses being saved by an AquaDam that it could end up being a good investment.

Stockpile Emergency Supplies

If you plan to stay put during a flood, make sure you have at least three days worth of food and water, and preferably more than a week’s worth. The flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey was so severe that many houses remained surrounded by floodwaters for over a week. There’s no point in saving your house if you’re just going to die of hunger or thirst inside it.

Plan Evacuation Routes

This is where the floodplain maps come in handy yet again. Figure out which roads will get you away from your house and away from the sources of flooding. Calculate which roads are most likely to flood during high water, and plan to use routes that are at higher elevation. During Hurricane Harvey there were many instances in which only one road was open for evacuation from certain areas, all the others were flooded. Know ahead of time which roads you’ll use so that you’re not running around from flooded road to flooded road wasting valuable time while the floodwaters continue to rise.

Store Your Valuables

Make sure that important paperwork and valuables are stored safely and securely. If you have a safe, it’s going to flood. Make sure that anything you want to protect is stored at the highest point possible in your house, and in a waterproof container if possible. That’s especially important for Social Security cards, birth certificates, marriage certificates, car titles, etc.

Have a Boat and Flotation Devices

In a worst-case scenario, you may not be able to drive out to evacuate. That’s where it helps to have a boat. Even a canoe with some paddles can be a major help. Make sure you also have flotation devices for every member of your family in case someone falls into the floodwaters and can’t be immediately rescued.


Turn Off Electricity and Gas

If you make the decision to evacuate, turn off your house’s electricity and gas. The last thing you want is for your house to burn down because of an electrical short or get destroyed in a gas explosion.

Evacuate Immediately

Once you’ve made the decision to evacuate, do so immediately. Floodwaters are rising all the time, so every wasted minute could mean the difference between being able to flee to safety and being trapped by water.

Don’t Drive Through Floodwaters

Resist the urge to drive through floodwaters. The water may not look deep, but that can be deceiving. Once you try to drive through, the water can short the electronic components of your engine, come through your air filter, or flood your cylinders. Water coming through your tailpipe could find its way into the engine and choke it off too.

Even if you’re able to keep your engine running, the force of floodwaters moving perpendicularly across the road may push your car off the road and leave you at Mother Nature’s mercy. Don’t drive across flooded roads, find another route.

If You Don’t Evacuate

Be Prepared to Signal for Help

Make sure you are able to get to the highest point of your house, even onto the rooftop if necessary. Have paint or spray paint ready to write a message on your roof. Have emergency flares or flare launchers to signal to helicopters that might be overhead or rescue boats that you might see.

Leave Utilities Off

If the flooding isn’t terrible, you may be tempted to turn your utilities back on. Resist that urge, as it may short appliances and lead to fires.

Prepare for Looters

It’s unfortunate, but there will be scoundrels who will try to take advantage of a natural disaster to loot stores and steal from evacuated homes. If you stay put, make sure you have some means of defending yourself and your property against these thieves.

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