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Picture amber waves of grain. Now picture them buried under feet of water due to flooding across America’s heartland. This is the reality of what happens each year in parts of the midwest.

Many people consider the Midwest to be a refuge to avoid the nasty natural disasters that pummel our coasts. Although flooding has always been a worry among Midwesterners due to the depth and width of the mighty Mississippi River, the chance of this devastating calamity is increasing and spreading thanks to climate change and other factors.

If your dream has always been to live near the water, then an action plan for escape should be part of your dream as well.

Fires are also a common occurrence, with expanding droughts across much of this beloved region. Despite the growing natural dangers in the Midwest, there are precautions you can take to safeguard yourself and your family against these ravaging risks.

MAKE SURE CHILDREN KNOW

When talking to your kids about flooding, make sure they know the hidden dangers, what to avoid and where to go.

For example, gas leaks, downed live power lines, unstable structures and raw sewage are the biggest culprits of death after the flood recedes.

Remind school age children that you will come to them if they are at school or a friend’s when a flood strikes. FEMA and the American Red Cross (www.ameri-canredcross.org) have excellent and detailed ideas, books and pamphlets for discussing flood preparation, escape and survival with children.

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Kids may not understand why they’re unable to play outside or go out in the car following a flood. Always remind them about the hidden dangers to ensure their safety.

WHY A WATERY MESS

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (www.noaa.gov) is the chief resource for issues of climate change and the resulting effects in the United States.

The agency, along with the National Weather Service (www.weather.gov), suggests that unusually high rainfall, melting snow from the surrounding Black Hills and Badlands regions, and oversaturated riverbanks have been the chief contributors to the increased flooding among the Midwest’s rivers.

Another major factor, which continues to be a determinant for loss of property and life along the riverbanks and the coasts, is the American lust for waterfront property. Buildings have gone up all along the water with absolute disregard for basic geography, and people are paying with their homes and their lives for the luxury of a waterfront home and view.

AFTER THE FLOODS RECEDE: THE TOP DANGERS
  • Gas leaks
  • Downed live power lines
  • Unstable structures
  • Raw sewage

Floods often occur without warning or excessive rains. If the weather has been cool and the waters are already high, then just one rainstorm can cause a flood.

Flood Facts
  • Some floods develop slowly, while others, such a flash floods, can develop in just a few minutes and without visible signs of rain.
  • Additionally, floods can be local, impacting a neighborhood or community, or very large, affecting entire river basins and multiple states.
  • Flash floods can occur within a few minutes or hours of excessive rainfall, a dam or levee failure, or a audden release of water held by an ice jam. Flash floods often have a dangerous wall of roaring water carrying rocks, mud and other debris.
    — FEMA

SURVIVE A FLOOD

If your dream has always been to live near the water, then an action plan for escape should be part of your dream as well. With any natural disaster, preparedness is the key to survival. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and NOAA have put together detailed flood maps and evacuation routes to help citizens keep afloat.

In addition, you should check your town’s websites, schools and community centers for flood shelters if your home is damaged or unreachable. Discussing your options and where to meet with your family before the flood is essential because you may not be together. Lastly, organizing a backpack with essentials like cash, copies of your identification information and a first aid kit are crucial and should be kept at home, in your car and at your workplace.

… the chance of this devastating calamity is
increasing and spreading thanks to climate change.

Watching the weather and being aware of flood alerts is the first step to getting out in time. If it has been
raining steadily for hours or days, you should be ready to get out quickly, or you may get stuck due to impassable roads or swept away in a flash flood or rising river waters. The rule of thumb in any flood zone is to get to higher ground as quickly as possible. Walking or driving the evacuation routes through the flood zone before a flood hits will show you how quickly you can get to higher ground in an emergency.

WHERE FLOODING HITS HARD:

TOP 10 STATES WITH THE MOST ANNUAL FLOODS

  1. Texas (587)
  2. Missouri (280)
  3. Indiana (202)
  4. Pennsylvania (192)
  5. Kentucky (187)
  6. Iowa (175)
  7. Illinois (173)
  8. New York (172)
  9. Kansas (157)
  10. West Virginia (135)

 

BE READY

Just because you live in the heartland doesn’t mean you’re safe from nature’s wrath. Be vigilant and aware of the dangers before they arise to ensure that your family won’t face devastation from floods.

Kristin Webb-Hollering is a journalist based in North Carolina.

Floods like this one in Minnesota can cause thousands of dollars’ worth of damage in a single day.

 

Flood Safety Checklist Before, During, After
BEFORE

ONE
Check your town’s websites, schools and community centers for flood shelters if your home is damaged or unreachable.

TWO
Discussing your options and where to meet with your family before the flood is essential because you may not be together.

THREE
Organize a backpack with essentials like cash, copies of your identification information and a first aid kit. Keep one at home, in your car and at work.

FOUR
Watch the weather and be aware of flood alerts.

FIVE
Avoid building in a floodplain unless you elevate and reinforce your home. Elevate the furnace, water heater and electric panel in your home if you live in an area that has a high flood risk. Consider installing “check valves” to prevent floodwater from backing up into the drains of your home. If feasible, construct barriers to stop floodwater from entering the building and seal walls in basements with waterproofing compounds.

DURING

ONE
Listen to the radio or television for information.

TWO
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.

THREE
Be aware of streams, drainage channels, canyons and other areas known to flood suddenly. Flash floods can occur in these areas with or without typical warnings such as rain clouds or heavy rain.

FOUR
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.

FIVE
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 swept away quickly.
  • Do not camp or park your vehicle along streams, rivers or creeks, particularly during threatening conditions.
AFTER

ONE
Use local alerts and warning systems to get information and expert informed advice as soon as available.

TWO
Avoid moving water.

THREE
Stay away from damaged areas unless your assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire or relief organization.

FOUR
Emergency workers will be assisting people in flooded areas. You can help them by staying off the roads and out of the way.

FIVE
Play it safe. Additional flooding or flash floods can occur. Listen for local warnings and information. If your car stalls in rapidly rising waters, get out immediately and climb to higher ground.

SIX
Return home only when authorities indicate it is safe. Roads may still be closed because they have been damaged or are covered by water. Barricades have been placed for your protection. If you come upon a barricade or a flooded road, go another way.

SEVEN
If you must walk or drive in areas that have been flooded.

  • Stay on firm ground. Moving water only 6 inches deep can sweep you off your feet. Standing water may be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.
  • Flooding may have caused familiar places to change. Floodwaters often erode roads and walkways. Flood debris may hide animals and broken bottles, and it’s also slippery. Avoid walking or driving through it.
  • Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded. Roads may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car.
  • Stay out of any building if it is surrounded by floodwaters.
  • Use extreme caution when entering buildings; there may be hidden damage, particularly in foundations.

 

Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the 2013 print issue of American Survival Guide.