12 Ways to Survive a Flood

When severe flooding hit New Orleans in 2005, a group of self-appointed volunteers took to their boats to rescue those in need. Since that time, the Cajun Navy has sailed into flooded areas to pull people stranded from their roofs to safety—sometimes even using extreme measures to help those in need. 

After severe flooding from Hurricane Harvey left nursing home residents in floodwaters contaminated with human waste, the Cajun Navy physically fought the nursing home director to move the elderly safely out of the flooded building. 

Miriam Markowitz for GQ writes, “In an age when the governmental bodies charged with our safekeeping are failing during times of both crisis and calm, stretched ever more thinly between natural disasters of increasing magnitude and frequency, amateur outfits like the Cajun Navy seem not just useful but like a patriotic solution to our society’s crumbling infrastructure.”

Flood season is coming up fast. And floods are more dangerous than many people think. The National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) explains, “Flooding occurs in every U.S. state and territory, and is a threat experienced anywhere in the world that receives rain. In the U.S. floods kill more people each year than tornadoes, hurricanes or lightning.”

NOAA reports, “Flooding is the most frequent severe weather threat and the costliest natural disaster facing the nation. Ninety percent of all natural disasters in the U.S. involve flooding. And high-risk flood areas are not the only ones at risk: about 25% of flood insurance claims come from moderate-to low-risk areas.”

No matter where you live, you are at risk for flooding. If you don’t have a boat or the Cajun Navy nearby, you must know how to survive a flood yourself.  

#1 Know Your Risks

flooded road sign

Become educated on the flood risks in your area... you may be surprised at what you find.

When it comes to flooding, it is important to know your risks as some areas are more prone to flooding than others. If you live in a flood zone, you need to take additional measures to protect your home and your family. Search FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center to see if your property is at risk.

#2 Understand the Difference between a Flood Watch and Flood Warning

While some natural disasters occur with little or no warning (such as earthquakes), we are typically alerted to flooding potential and have some time to prepare or get to safety. 

This is why it is important to know the difference between a flood or flash flood watch and a flood or flash flood warning. A watch indicates flooding is possible, while a warning means flooding is occurring or will occur. Should you receive a flash flood warning, you need to take preventative measures as soon as possible. 

#3 Purchase Flood Insurance

According to National Geographic, “Floods cause more than $40 billion in damage worldwide annually. [...] In the U.S., losses average close to $8 billion a year.” 

Considering the significant costs associated with flood damage, it is critical to purchase flood insurance in addition to homeowner’s insurance (which typically does not cover flooding). This is especially true if you live in a flood zone. However, since 25% of flood insurance claims come from low-risk or moderate-risk areas, even homeowners outside of high-risk areas should consider purchasing flood insurance. 

#4 Have an Emergency Bag Packed

If your home is affected by a flood, you will have to survive using only the things you were able to grab on your way out the door. That’s why it is important to have an emergency bag ready to grab and go. 

Emergency Essentials provides a 72-hour emergency kit that contains 58 survival items, which is ideal for emergency evacuations.

#5 Sign Up for Emergency Alerts

Taking a few minutes now to sign up for emergency alerts can possibly save your life as they often give you critical time to prepare. Ready.gov, American Red Cross, and the National Weather Service offer mobile emergency alert apps. Also, most local governments offer a state-wide emergency alert system.

#6 Waterproof Important Documents

Important documents such as birth certificates, passports, marriage licenses, and deeds need to be protected against water damage. Store these types of documents in a waterproof firebox. Some people also laminate these documents for added protection and place them in their emergency bag.

#7 Head to Higher Ground ASAP

Car Underwater in a Flood

Floods move quickly. Hurry and make your way to an attic, roof, or any higher ground free from water.

According to Ready.gov, “Just six inches of moving water can knock you down, and one foot of moving water can sweep your vehicle away.” Therefore, it is critical to head to higher ground as quickly as possible. Many flood stories involve survivors making their way to their attics, roofs, or higher levels in buildings. 

#8 Take Preventative Home Measures

Flooding is costly for homeowners, so take preventative measures to protect your home against flood damage. Even minor home improvements can make a big difference in how much damage your home sustains during a flood. 

For example, keep your gutters clean. Gutters keep the water away from your interior walls and foundation and if clogged, they are ineffective. 

Here are some additional ways to protect your home:

  • Protect your home’s HVAC unit, such as moving it to an upper floor.
  • Install an automatic sump pump. 
  • Install sewer backflow valves.
  • Use water-resistant building materials.
  • Anchor fuel tanks.
  • Increase the grade around your home to direct water away from the house. 

#9 Build a Flood Barrier

men placing sandbags in floodzone

Place sandbags around doors and even on pluming to stop flood water from coming into your home and through pipes.

If you receive an emergency alert announcing a flood watch—especially during a major weather event, like a hurricane—take time to build flood barriers. The most popular option is sandbags. 

Place sandbags around your doors to prevent water from getting under the doors, or place onto plumbing to stop flood water from coming up through the pipes. You can also purchase flood bags, which use special crystals to absorb water rather than sand. They expand quickly and create a flood barrier. 

#10 Get Out of Your Car

You do not want to get stuck in your vehicle during a flood—especially a flash flood. There’s a reason the news constantly says, “Turn around; don’t drown” when a flood watch is in effect. 

The key word here is flash. Should you be in your vehicle when a flash flood occurs, you want to do everything possible to get out of your vehicle: 

  • At the first hint of danger, roll down your windows.
  • Unbuckle your seatbelt.
  • Do not try to open your door in rushing flood water; it likely won’t open. Instead, get out through the open window.
  • Climb onto the roof.
  • Do not use your car’s roof as a float. If possible, swim to higher ground following the flow of water.

#11 Escape First, Then Call for Help

If you are caught in a flood, don’t panic. Prioritize your escape. Whether this is getting out of your vehicle or to the top of your roof, the most important thing to do is get to higher ground. After you have escaped the rising floodwaters, then call 911. 

#12 Stay Safe Afterwards 

Even after the flood is over, the danger continues. Floodwaters are typically contaminated by chemicals or sewage. In addition, snakes and other animals may have found their way into your home. Beyond contamination, electrocution is a possibility. Make sure you avoid touching any electricity if it is wet, or you are in standing water.

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