Best Methods for Surviving
Surviving Flood Disasters is Dependent on Preparation and Early Warnings
Flooding occurs in known floodplains when prolonged rainfall occurs over several days, intense rainfall over a short period of time, or an ice or
debris jam causes a river or stream to overflow and flood the surrounding area. Melting snow can combine with rain in the winter and early spring;
severe thunderstorms can bring heavy rain in the spring and summer; or tropical cyclones can bring intense rainfall to the coastal and inland states in
the summer and fall.
Flooded Missouri Town
Flash floods can occur within six hours of a rain event, or after a dam or levee failure, or following a sudden release of water held by an ice or
debris jam, and flash floods can catch people unprepared. You will not always have a warning that these deadly, sudden floods are coming. So if you
live in areas prone to flash floods, plan now to protect your family and property.
As land is converted from fields or woodlands to roads and parking lots, it loses its ability to absorb rainfall. Urbanization increases runoff two to
six times over what would occur on natural terrain. During periods of urban flooding, streets can become swift moving rivers, while basements and
viaducts can become death traps as they fill with water.
Several factors contribute to flooding. Two key elements are rainfall intensity and duration. Intensity is the rate of rainfall, and duration is how
long the rain lasts. Topography, soil conditions, and ground cover also play important roles. Most flash flooding is caused by slow-moving
thunderstorms, thunderstorms repeatedly moving over the same area, or heavy rains from hurricanes and tropical storms. Floods, on the other hand, can
be slow- or fast-rising, but generally develop over a period of hours or days.
Feasibility of a Flood Occurrence for Your Location
Floods are among the most frequent and costly natural disasters in terms of human hardship and economic loss. As much as 90 percent of the damage
related to all natural disasters (excluding droughts) is caused by floods and associated debris flows. Most communities in the United States can
experience some kind of flooding. Over the 10-year period from 1988 to
1997, floods cost the Nation, on average, $3.7 billion annually. The long term (1940 to 1999) annual average of lives lost is 110 per year, mostly as
a result of flash floods.
So be aware of flood hazards 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 streambeds, or low-lying ground that appear harmless in dry weather can flood. Every state is at risk
from this hazard.
However, for a daily assessment of flooding in the U.S., refer to the excellent website of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and
their National Weather Service. The site reveals via a colored map the daily flood status by location and degree of flooding.
Go to: What is the flood risk where I live?
The local and national weather reporting on radio and TV is the usual source for knowing the flood occurrences and expectations. Critical
announcements are given along with alerts.
Here are some of the terms commonly referred to in these announcements:
A National Weather Service WATCH is a message indicating that conditions favor the occurrence of a certain type of hazardous weather. For example, a
severe thunderstorm watch means that a severe thunderstorm is expected in the next six hours or so within an area approximately 120 to 150 miles wide
and 300 to 400 miles long (36,000 to 60,000 square miles).
The NWS Storm Prediction Center issues such watches. Local NWS forecast offices issue other watches (flash flood, winter weather, etc.) 12 to 36 hours
in advance of a possible hazardous weather or flooding event. Each local forecast office usually covers a state or a portion of a state.
An NWS WARNING indicates that a hazardous event is occurring or is imminent in about 30 minutes to an hour. Local NWS forecast offices issue warnings
on a county-by-county basis.
Many more WATCHES are issued than WARNINGS. A WATCH is the first sign a flood may occur, and when one is issued, you should be aware of potential flood
Flooding is possible. 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.
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.
What Happens When a Flood Occurs?
Different Types of Floods
All floods are not alike. Some floods develop slowly, sometimes over a period of days. These are typically known as overland floods. Here rising
water from upstream source breach defined river or stream banks. Sometimes a river levee is breached but even though more localized in flooding these
can still be destructive. Flooding can also occur when a dam breaks, producing effects similar to flash floods.
Flash floods can develop quickly, sometimes in just a few minutes and without any visible signs of rain. Flash floods often have a dangerous wall of
roaring water that carries rocks, mud, and other debris and can sweep away most things in its path. Desert areas are famous for their flash floods
because many people that are not local fail to realize the danger and speed that these can occur.
Planning and Preparation for Surviving Flood Disasters
To prepare for a flood, you should:
Avoid building in a flood prone area 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 floodwater from backing up into the drains of your home.
Contact community officials to find out if they are planning to construct barriers (levees, beams, floodwalls) to stop floodwater from entering the
homes in your area.
Seal the walls in your basement with waterproofing compounds to avoid seepage.
Actions to Take for Surviving Flood Disasters
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 prepare to evacuate, you should do the following:
Secure your home. If you have time, bring in outdoor furniture. Move essential items to an upper floor.
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).
If you have to 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.
Do not drive into flooded areas. If floodwaters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground if you can do so safely. You and
the vehicle can be quickly swept away.
Listen continuously to a NOAA Weather Radio, or a portable, battery-powered radio (or television) for updated emergency information. Local stations
provide you with the best advice for your particular situation.
Be alert to signs of flooding. A WARNING means a flood is imminent or is happening in the area.
If you live in a flood-prone area or think you are at risk, evacuate immediately. Move quickly to higher ground. Save yourself, not your
belongings. The most important thing is your safety.
Follow the instructions and advice of local authorities. Local authorities are the most informed about affected areas. They will best be able to
tell you areas to avoid.
If advised to evacuate, do so immediately. Move to a safe area before access is cut off by flood water. Evacuation is much simpler and safer before
flood waters become too deep for vehicles to drive through.
Follow recommended evacuation routes. Shortcuts or alternate, non-recommended routes may be blocked or damaged by flood waters.
Leave early enough to avoid being marooned by flooded roads. Delaying too long may allow all escape routes to become blocked.
Facts for Driving During a Flood Disaster
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.
A foot of water will float many vehicles.
Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles including sport utility vehicles (SUV’s) and pick-ups.
Always carry a pointed metal hammer-like device and a box cutter in your glove box. Should your car be swept into water the box cutter can ensure
escaping your seatbelt. If your vehicle becomes submerged before you can get out, the hammer device can knock out your window to allow you to
escape. If windows are up and you have electric windows that become disabled you cannot break the class with your hands. The hammer-like device
provides a suitable level of pointed impact to allow you to break out the window and swim to the surface.
Actions to Take After Surviving Flood Disasters
The following are guidelines to consider after a flood:
Listen for news reports to learn whether the community’s water supply is safe to drink.
Avoid moving water.
Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded. Roads may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car.
Use extreme caution when entering buildings; there may be hidden damage, particularly in foundations.
Seek necessary medical care at the nearest hospital or clinic. Contaminated flood waters lead to a greater possibility of infection. Severe
injuries will require medical attention.
Help a neighbor who may require special assistance — infants, elderly people, and people with disabilities. Elderly people and people with
disabilities may require additional assistance. People who care for them or who have large families may need additional assistance in emergency
Avoid disaster areas. Your presence might hamper rescue and other emergency operations, and put you at further risk from the residual effects of
floods, such as contaminated waters, crumbled roads, landslides, mudflows, and other hazards.
Continue to listen to a NOAA Weather Radio or local radio or television stations and return home only when authorities indicate it is safe to do
so. Flood dangers do not end when the water begins to recede; there may be flood-related hazards within your community, which you could hear about
from local broadcasts.
Stay out of any building if flood waters remain around the building. Flood waters often undermine foundations, causing sinking, floors can crack
or break and buildings can collapse.
Avoid entering ANY building (home, business, or other) before local officials have said it is safe to do so. Buildings may have hidden damage that
makes them unsafe. Gas leaks or electric or waterline damage can create additional problems.
Report broken utility lines to the appropriate authorities. Reporting potential hazards will get the utilities turned off as quickly as possible,
preventing further hazard and injury. Check with your utility company now about where broken lines should be reported.
Avoid smoking inside buildings. Smoking in confined areas can cause fires.
When entering buildings, use extreme caution. Building damage may have occurred where you least expect it. Watch carefully every step you take.
Wear sturdy shoes. The most common injury following a disaster is cut feet.
Use battery-powered lanterns or flashlights when examining buildings. Battery-powered lighting is the safest and easiest, preventing fire hazard
for the user, occupants, and building.
Examine walls, floors, doors, staircases, and windows to make sure that the building is not in danger of collapsing. Inspect foundations for cracks
or other damage. Cracks and damage to a foundation can render a building uninhabitable.
Look for fire hazards. There may be broken or leaking gas lines, flooded electrical circuits, or submerged furnaces or electrical appliances.
Flammable or explosive materials may travel from upstream. Fire is the most frequent hazard following floods.
Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas at the
outside main valve if you can and call the gas company from a neighbor’s home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by
Look for electrical system damage. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell burning insulation, turn off the electricity at the
main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice. Electrical equipment should be checked and dried before being returned to service.
Check for sewage and waterline damage. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are
damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the tap. You can obtain safe water from undamaged water heaters or by melting ice
Watch out for animals, especially poisonous snakes that may have come into buildings with the flood waters. Use a stick to poke through debris.
Flood waters flush snakes and many animals out of their homes.
Watch for loose plaster, drywall, and ceilings that could fall.
Take pictures of the damage, both of the building and its contents, for insurance claims.
After returning home:
Throw away food that has come in contact with flood waters.
Some canned foods may be salvageable. If the cans are dented or damaged, throw them away. Food contaminated by flood waters can cause severe
If water is of questionable purity, boil or add bleach, and distill drinking water before using.
Wells inundated by flood waters should be pumped out and the water tested for purity before drinking. If in doubt, call your local public health authority. Ill health effects often occur when people drink water contaminated with bacteria and germs.
Pump out flooded basements gradually (about one-third of the water per day) to avoid structural damage. If the water is pumped completely in a short period of time, pressure from water-saturated soil on the outside could cause basement walls to collapse.
Service damaged septic tanks, cesspools, pits, and leaching systems as soon as possible. Damaged sewage systems are health hazards.
Additional Resources for Surviving Flood Disasters
Learn about flooding and flash flooding in your area by contacting the local emergency management office, National Weather Service (NWS) office, your
American Red Cross chapter, or your planning and zoning department. If you are at risk, take steps to reduce damage and the risk of injury or loss to
Historical Notes Pertaining to Surviving Flood Disasters:
The most recent devastating flood disaster occurred in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, August 2005. Not only did great quantities of rain and
sea water saturate the soil but large levees broke which really flooded the city.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA):
Go to www.fema.gov/
National Disaster Education Coalition consisting of:
American Red Cross, FEMA, IAEM, IBHS, NFPA, NWS, USDA/CSREES, and USGS.
Return from Surviving Flood Disasters to Surviving Natural Disasters
Back to Home Page