The Ultimate Guide to Surviving a Deadly Flood

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The Ultimate Guide to Surviving a Deadly Flood

From June to October of 2022, Pakistan experienced some of its worst floods in history. At one point, one-third of the country was underwater. The floods destroyed the country's breadbasket and left over two million people homeless.

It's easy to shrug off stories like this and just call it weather. After all, floods have been happening forever, right? Yes, but because of climate change, floods are getting worse and becoming more common. The United States, for example, experienced five 1000-year rain events in 2022. In the same year, many other countries including China, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan experienced their worst floods in nearly a century.

And it's only going to get worse.

Early warning detection systems can let you know when there is going to be heavy rainfall, but it’s up to you to be prepared in case of a flood. Being unprepared for a flood could cost you your life. This guide will outline all the steps you should take if you want to survive a deadly flood.

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What is a Flood Zone?

Areas that are prone to flooding in warmer times of the year are known as flood zones. Within these areas, you can find flash flooding, where the water level gets high very quickly.

This is an important thing to look into if you’re moving into an area near large bodies of water such as lakes, oceans, wetlands, and rainforests. 

If you live inside a valley or canyon, then flooding is a concern as the water collects inside like a giant bowl. The nice thing is that existing communities usually have codes and plans in place for when such an event will happen. 

How Dangerous Can a Flood Be?

Flooding is one of the most dangerous natural disasters because it has both immediate and long-term ramifications for the area affected. Initially, the raging current can easily overpower civilians and pull them under as it rages forward. 

Additionally, the probability of multiple directional currents is high as water flows in from multiple directions and speeds. This means a person can get dragged under and have little chance of resurfacing as they get tumbled around by the converging currents. 

How Much Damage Can a Flood Do?

Property damage caused by a flood can be extensive and difficult to recover from since a lot of restoration projects usually mean a complete teardown of the existing infrastructure. The downtime from rebuilding can also leave a family exposed, either to the environment or financially. 

Most vehicles, computers, and electronics are rendered inoperable after being submerged in water. The loss of valuable data or assets further complicates the recovery process.  

For those without the proper skills, materials, or insurance, this can be a huge hit to their savings.    

Getting Prepared for a Flood Event

Flash floods are the most common way a natural disaster can catch you off guard. General knowledge about the likelihood of flooding is easy to obtain. With a little research, you can know exactly what kind of flooding to prepare for in your area.    

FEMA Flood Map

Most communities in the world will have a flood map that outlines where the bad areas are. In the United States, you can visit the FEMA Flood Map which allows you to type in your address and show you information regarding flood conditions for your area. 

Just keep in mind that FEMA flood maps are out of date, so if the map says you're not in a flood zone but still near one, you should assume you're in a flood zone now.

Ensure that you look into the flooding history of the area. If there is at least one major occurrence of flooding since the recordings began, then there is a good chance that another could come around. Don’t leave it to chance; use this red flag as an opportunity to learn. 

If you’re moving to a new area, be sure to check with the realtor and the previous owners as to whether or not the area can have flooding issues. If that fails, talk to your new neighbors to learn about the area. Since most homes were built around the same time, you can also inquire about what common problems your neighbors have come across with their homes.  

Weather Alert Apps and Systems

In a lot of the larger population centers, various governments have implemented early warning systems that work through local cell phone providers. These alerts get sent to smartphones that warn the population of impending natural disasters. 

If you use a weather app on your smartphone, then you’ve probably had warnings pop up about adverse weather conditions. Google is known to send weather updates to Android smartphones to let them know if a storm or flooding is imminent.  

Of course, there are situations where the internet won’t be quick enough to help you, either because the services are down or the event is happening suddenly. Paying attention to the weather a few days in advance can also help keep you on a slight alert for flooding situations.   

Stock Emergency Food and Supplies 

There’s a strong possibility that your pantry goods and perishables will be destroyed in the event of a flood. Having a watertight tote with emergency food is a great way to preserve food for consumption after a flood when all stores will be out of commission. 

Having an ample supply of bottled water is a great idea because water treatment centers more than likely will be shut down. Since tap water will be unreliable and flood waters can bring in all kinds of nasty stuff, having a sealed water source is the best option.

Include an inflatable raft and oars in your emergency stock. As silly as it may sound, an inflatable raft can keep you and your items above the water.  

Family in Inflatable Raft During Flood

Gas Up Your Vehicles

Being prepared for any scenario is the best way to survive a flood. Make sure your vehicles always have at least half a tank of gas in case you're able to drive away in time. You should also keep some extra gas in a jerry can. Gas stations might be down all over the area so this allows you to travel a longer distance than you would if you hadn’t gassed up. 

There is always the possibility of a flash flood preventing you from using your vehicle. The best way to think about it is that at least you were prepared if you could use your vehicle, instead of dwelling on the fact that it’s gone. 

Flood Insurance

Traditional house insurance doesn’t cover natural disasters such as floods in their policies, catching many homeowners by surprise. This kind of mistake can be costly since all repairs will be out of your pocket. 

Talking to your insurance company about options for protecting your home is the first option. The premium will be higher, but at least you’ll be able to recover quicker after a flood. FEMA has a National Flood Insurance Program that is provided through various insurance companies, primarily targeting areas that are prone to flooding. 

The average cost for flood insurance in the United States is $985 per year ($82 per month); However, that will fluctuate depending on the state and its flood zone designation.

Be sure to take photos of everything before the flood and after the flood. This will give insurance companies a better chance of approving your claim and beginning the rebuilding process.

Create an Evacuation Plan

Without a plan in place, the fight-or-flight instinct can take over and paralyze you both physically and mentally. The mind works better when it has steps pre-orchestrated that can effectively put it into auto-pilot mode. 

This will progressively wear off until you’re able to think again, hopefully out of reach of any floods. Ideally, having your evacuation plan on a card or laminated sheet of paper for all members of your household is the best bet to ensure a smooth escape.

There are multiple steps to an evacuation plan and luckily, if you plan well enough, you can execute it easily with enough practice. Being able to swiftly evacuate with enough emergency supplies is your best bet for survival.  

Gather Survival Supplies and Packs

Commonly called a bug-out bag, a survival pack has enough food, water, and other commodities to get you through 48-72 hours. Most preppers will pack these bags and store them in a safe place for easy access. This works well as long as you periodically update the pack with better gear or swap out food

Some of the common items that people keep in a survival pack include:

The best way to think about it is to imagine what you would need if you were to go camping for a few days, without the additional frills. Keeping a list of items attached to the bag will ensure that you don't miss any of the contents inside. 

Medical Kits

First aid is important during a flood because the risk of injury is so high. Fast-flowing water can carry objects at high speeds and upon collision, can cause breaks, bruising, and could even knock you unconscious.  

Having a standard medical kit that every member of your family can have is great in case you get separated. Since every person is different, tailor the emergency medical kits to the individual, adding items that may be helpful for any medical condition. 

A good medical kit will have the following items:

That should get you started with a basic kit that can handle many entry-level problems. If you have a chance to resupply on the road, then it’s always a good idea to carry a little more, just in case. 

Small First Aid Kit On Wood Table

Do Not Rely On Your Vehicle

Your main evacuation plan should involve escaping on foot since vehicles are prone to breaking down. Water can move fast, and a flash flood can be upon you before you know it. A vehicle should be part of plan B (or even C) and should be used in the opportunity if it shows itself.

Have Multiple Escape Routes

One of the worst things that can happen to someone during a flood is getting trapped and not having a clear avenue for escape. This often occurs when your escape plan is limited to one or two escape routes. 

Having up to 4 escape routes out of your home is imperative, making sure each member of your family is educated on using them.  

Here are some of the factors to be aware of when making your escape route plan:

  • Finding higher ground is key to not getting trapped.
  • The first floor and basement of your home may be compromised by water.
  • Avoid areas with lots of clutter or small windows.
  • If you’re living in an apartment, the elevator may be down. This means stairways and walkways will be crowded with people.
  • Ensure your survival bags are located in an easy-to-reach area on the way to your escape route.

Things will be hectic outside your home, so having a couple of escape routes to your property and a local meeting area is crucial to a sound plan. Additionally, you want a plan if you get separated from the rest of the group, which takes us to our next point. 

Pre-plan Meeting Areas and When To Leave 

The fight-or-flight reflex is so strong that your mind may only be able to focus on a few things, or none at all. Having pre-planned meeting areas that can easily be remembered with one or two words make it easier to make decisions in stressful situations. 

Can't think of any around your area? Check out some of these examples that could be around your home:

  • Red Cross or other shelters in place for flood victims (research your local establishments)
  • Emergency service buildings like police and fire stations
  • Business rooftops with ladder access

As soon as you hear about an imminent flood, you should begin preparing to evacuate. This provides you with enough breathing room to make smart decisions without panicking. In the case of a flash flood, you should leave immediately with just your packs and other pre-planned items. 

Protecting Your Home

The first line of defense against a flood is right in your own home. The damage to your home can be mitigated with proper maintenance and foresight. The main concerns for your house should be centered around your foundation and roof. Structural integrity fails first as the force of water can be incredibly destructive. 

Do Regular House Checkups

A house checkup can be as sophisticated as a home inspection or simply a walk around looking at potential weak points in your home. You can do these as often as you want, but every 6 months should be the minimum between house checkups.

Waterproof Your Basement 

Foundational cracks are the leading cause of water getting into basements. This can rot away the supports in your home and cause irreversible damage. Search for local contracting companies that specialize in basement waterproofing. If you live in a flood plain, then you most likely have many to choose from. 

Waterproofing your basement usually involves a few steps. First, any cracks in the foundation must be sealed. A liquid rubber coating can be applied to the outside foundation walls. On top of that are different layers of products that help keep water from coming in contact with the foundation. 

Additionally, weeping tile can be added around the foundation to help direct water away from the house and into the local sewer system. In a flood, these systems may fail but at least they will help minimize the damage to your home. 

Aqua Dams

An aqua dam is a water-controlling product that uses water-filled structures to divert water on someone's property. These are great solutions for minor flooding as the level of the dam must meet the water level. This can be tricky to determine and the higher the wall the more expensive it will be. 

Door Dams

Doors are one of the most troublesome spots in a home as they can be easily penetrated by water around the sides and through the handle. Door dams consist of rubber seals or metal plates that are designed to resist water penetration while diverting it away from the door.  

Sandbags

The tried and true method of stacking sandbags in different configurations is an excellent choice for mild flooding. It is inexpensive and can be prepared beforehand for quick deployment. Stacking sandbags can be labor-intensive and time-consuming.  

Sump Pumps

Having a good sump pump is a necessity for people who live in areas prone to flooding. As the water comes in, the sump pump will pump it out away from your home. Ensure that your sump pump can run off batteries since it will be useless in a power outage.  

Town Submerged By Flood Waters

Flood Survival at Home

The first step to surviving a flood is to get out of your home and to higher ground. Depending on the severity of the flood, this can be an easy task, or impossible. Having that plan handy at this point will pay off since you’ll have it all mapped out.  

Unplug Everything

Turn off any natural gas or propane connections in case any errant electrical arcing ignites it from the source. Shutting off the main breaker will keep any electrical fires from starting. 

Move Valuables and Electronics Upstairs

Everything you want to keep from getting wet should be elevated as high as possible. In most flooding cases, you can safely get away using this method. It’s only for the severe flooding cases where the water is close to the roof line that your valuables might get damaged.

Stay Elevated

It’s mentioned a lot because it is probably the most important thing to remember during a flood. In a home, go up to the highest point, whether that be a bedroom or attic space. Ideally, the space can be separate from the normal living quarters and can also house your emergency supplies inside. 

Flood Survival in a Vehicle

Floods can happen anywhere, even in your vehicle. Flash floods that cause road washouts are extremely dangerous as they can sweep your car off precarious cliffs or simple ditches.

Be vigilant in heavy rainstorms and stop somewhere safe if you feel it isn’t wise to keep driving. Invest in some high-quality tires and consider enhancing your vehicle's suspension to better handle flooded conditions. 

Get Out As Soon As You Can

Just as you would your home, getting out of your car as soon as you can is vital to guarantee your survival. Strong flood currents can easily catch your vehicle and whisk you away in an instant. 

If the flooding is mild, then you should be able to escape through the exit doors. If the water level is too high for you to open the door, then you have some other options to get you out. 

Fully open all of your windows before the electronic system is soaked and stops working. If you have a hand crank window, even better as you can manually open it up. The idea is to open the windows enough that you can fit yourself and any other occupants through. 

Another option will only work if your vehicle has a sunroof. Simply open it fully and use it as an escape hatch. Doing this as quickly as possible is ideal as water can make the connections fail which can stop it from being opened.   

The last option would be to kick out the windshield using the seat as leverage for your legs. Several solid stomps should provide enough force to start to loosen the window from its seating. Keep in mind that you can kick out any of the windows if they won’t open for you manually.   

What to Do If Your Car is Submerged 

The best thing to do if your car is submerged in a flood is to wait for the car to fill up with water. The pressure equalization should allow you to open the door. Generally, you have to wait until the water level is about level with your neck before the pressure will be eased enough for you to attempt to open the door. 

For most, this might be a terrifying thought, staying in your car as it fills with water. Unfortunately, the pressure from the outside is so great that we simply don’t have the strength to force it open. Once water is both inside and out of the main vehicle compartment, the door can open easier as both sides have almost equal amounts of pressure. 

Submerged Car During Flood

Surviving a Flood Outdoors

Once you’ve gotten out of your vehicle or away from your house, the next part of the survival plan needs to take place: how to survive outdoors until you’re safe. 

Sure, having a bug out bag with camping supplies is a good start, but knowing to navigate a flooded world is where the real test begins.

Crossing Floodwaters

Depending on how deep the water is, traversing floodwaters can be tricky and extremely dangerous. Much like a river, a flood can have multiple currents and eddies that can toss and turn a person indefinitely. 

The first step is to avoid fast-moving water as much as you can. This means sticking to elevated paths and roadways. Sometimes, it can be impossible to avoid the water, and crossing it is the only option. 

Be aware of any debris that may be traveling by strong currents. Large items can knock your legs out from under you, dragging you along with the current. Finding long poles or sticks to use for stability can make keeping your footing easier.

Power Lines

Broken power lines can fall and electrify the water they touch. City hydro lines can generate enough electricity to easily fry a human being. Stay away from any damaged electrical lines, generators, and substations as they can charge up the water and turn it into a death trap. 

The Aftermath

Once you’ve been given the go-ahead to return to your home (whether through authorities or local reports) it is time to start assessing the situation and run damage control. 

Avoid any large water currents as many floods take a bit of time to subside completely. More than likely there will be designated paths to different parts of your city or town. 

Check-in With Everyone

Check in with everyone at your party to see if there are any injuries or other pressing matters. If you’ve been separated, then it’s best to either stay put, find the local emergency services, or if it’s safe to do so, find your way home. 

Your emergency flood plan should have some meeting places set aside that you can go to for meeting up with your family. If there are multiple sites, start with the one closest to you. This gives you a chance to rest and interact with others to see if they can help find your party. 

Do Not Drink the Water 

Floodwaters can contain dangerous chemicals and other substances that can be harmful to your health if ingested. Stay away from any water that is on the ground or not sealed inside a bottle. If you were able to keep your water filter dry, then using that in a pinch can work, but it’s best to avoid it altogether.

Local water filtration plants could have been affected by the flood. Contaminated water can flow into different partitions and affect the entire process. Stay away from tap water until you have the green light from local authorities to drink it. 

Assess Property Damage

Now begins the long tasks of documenting and rebuilding. Take as many photos of the damage to your home as possible. This includes structural, cosmetic, and property damage. If you had taken photos before the flood as part of the plan then you’ll have had an easier time dealing with the insurance company. 

Take stock of what you have in your home. In times like these looters can be a problem. If you notice anything valuable missing from your home, document it and bring it to the attention of the local authorities. 

Final Thoughts

Surviving a flood can be a scary thing, even with a well-documented plan. If you’re part of a family unit, or alone, this guide can give you the foundation for surviving a flood event. 

Keep your plans and life simple, so that you can leave quickly if need be. Be kind to others and help out as much as you can. Remember, you’re not the only one who is going through this traumatic experience. 

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