Noah was warned of an impending flood, and was told to build an ark. Although his neighbors mocked him, Noah was prepared and his family survived.

This winter has brought record breaking snow to many areas. The last few weeks we have witnessed record breaking rains in California. Who can forget the devastation in Australia just a few months ago due to flooding?

Forecasters are predicting major flooding this spring for many regions. Short of building a ship in our backyard, there are ways we can prepare for the worst. The measure of our wisdom may depend completely on whether, like Noah, we are willing to do something about being prepared.

Flooding can occur in any season, but in spring it does not need to be raining for floods to alter the course of many lives. Flooding may develop in just hours or minutes from spring runoff or a summer cloudburst, and even from dam and levee breaks.  Flash floods can develop with little warning under these circumstances, so it is important to learn the meaning of various warnings.

Did you know:

  • Flood watch means that a flood is possible in your area.
  • Flood warning means flooding is already occurring in another area and will soon begin to affect your neighborhood.
  • Flash flood watch means flash flooding is possible.
  • Flash flood warning means a flash flood is already occurring and will spread to your area.

What to Do

When a flood watch is issued, and if you are in the threatened area, you should begin serious preparations to minimize the damage to your home and to protect your family, pets and property.

Begin by moving furniture and valuables to higher floors in your home. If you live in a single story home, move your valuables to the highest level possible. This could include counters, the highest shelves in closets, or plant shelves. Also consider the crawl space in the attic. Don’t forget a cage for your pets. They will quickly become disoriented and you will need to cage them to keep them safe if you need to remain in your home.

Next, check your yard and bring in any lawn furniture, toys or other items that may float away. Most of the things in the yard are not going to be damaged by water.  After all, they do sit outside during all sorts of weather. For this reason they can be placed in a garage. They just need to be protected from blowing or floating away — not from flood waters.

Fill pots, water pitchers, picnic juice coolers, and sanitized sinks and bathtubs with water. After a flood, water from the tap may not be safe to drink for several days. You should be storing water in case of an emergency. Now is the time to move that to a higher safer location inside your home. Move some water to the attic in case you are caught without warning and need to evacuate to the roof.

If you have not already done so, place in the attic an ax and a backpack.  The backpack should contain food that does not need to be cooked, dry clothing, wool blankets, safety vests, rain poncho, flashlight, portable radio and safety glow sticks. If you should need to evacuate to the roof, it is better to cut a hole in the roof rather than to crawl out a window and get wet, or be swept away in a current. Your goal is always to remain dry. Leave these supplies in the attic year round and you will always be ready for a surprise or middle of the night flooding emergency.

Load photos, heirlooms and other valuable items in to the car, along with the family 72 hour kits and medications. Be sure you add important documents to your kit now; don’t wait for an emergency. Make sure you also have maps and your car cell phone charger in the car. Fill the gas tank so you are ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Once a flood warning is issued, finish preparing your home so you can leave:

  • Locate and gather all family members.
  • Gather pets and deliver them to the friend or family member who has agreed to watch them in an emergency.
  • Call your out of state contact person and inform him of your plans.  Give him your evacuation destination and phone number, if that is available.
  • Close and lock all windows and doors.
  • Turn off water, electricity and natural gas or propane lines into the house.
  • Listen to local radio and television broadcasts for current information and advice.
  • When told to evacuate, do so immediately. When evacuating, avoid driving through flooded areas. It does not take much water to be caught in a current and swept away. The surprising number of people who die in floods, die in their vehicles.

If a flash flood warning is issued, evacuate immediately. You may have a very short time to get safely away, so don’t delay. Evacuate quickly to higher ground away from rivers, lakes, streams, creeks, canals, and storm drains. An otherwise calm body of water can very quickly turn into a dangerous trap with strong currents and debris.

Never drive around barricades; they are in place for your safety. Rising water is not the only danger during a flood. Downed power lines can make shallow water deadly. Electrocution is a major cause of death during a flood.  Never assume you know the reason for the barricade. Turn around and find another route out.

If your car stalls in rising waters, abandon your car immediately and climb to higher ground. If it is no longer possible to reach land safely, climb out of your car onto the roof and hang on. You will be more easily seen by rescuers, and they will evacuate you more quickly, if you are on the roof. Never swim in floodwaters. There may be snakes and other critters in the water, as well as debris, both of which can be very dangerous or even deadly.

Should conditions worsen too quickly to evacuate by car, grab the photos, 72-hour kits, and other items you placed in your car and transfer them to the attic.

Worst case, you may need to evacuate to the roof of your home. If you should need to do this, put on the rain ponchos you previously stored in the attic, even if it is not presently raining. Over the poncho, put on the safety vest. Because of their bright orange color these vests can be seen for long distances, making you more visible to rescuers.

Wool blankets, or wool and manmade fiber blend blankets, will continue to keep you warm even when they are wet.

Industrial grade, safety light sticks are 10 inches long and can be seen up to a mile away. These are the type which should be stored with your emergency provisions in your attic. Keep them handy to signal rescuers at night. Take a battery or crank powered radio with you as you evacuate.

After the Flood has passed:

Report damage to your insurance agent immediately.

As soon as you know you will have damage to your home, call your agent, even in the middle of the night. Claims are processed in the order they are received, so be the first to call. Be sure to have your policy and home inventory available when they return your call. You should have copies of these in your 72-hour kit.

Walk around the outside of your home and check for gas leaks, loose power lines, and structural damage before entering. Watch for snakes, rodents, and dangerous debris. Do not walk through flowing water – just six inches of water is enough to cause you be knocked off your feet. 

Open exterior doors slowly, because sticking may indicate that the ceiling may be ready to fall. If you have to, stand clear and force the door open. Wait 10 minutes before entering to make sure it is safe. Be careful because steps and floors may be slippery.

Turn off main electricity and gas valves into your home, if it can be done safely and without walking through water. Once the power has been turned off, unplug appliances and lamps. Remove light bulbs, wet switches and outlet plates. Remember, before you turn your gas back on or light a pilot light, contact your utility company or fire department. Do not use gas lanterns, candles, open flames, and do not allow anyone to smoke, since there may be explosive gas in the air even after the main is shut off. The gas may also be coming from your neighbor’s home.

Take photos for your records. Before you begin the clean up process take pictures of everything — lots and lots of pictures, from every angle. You want to be able to prove the damage was caused by the flooding or storm and not caused by neglect, lack of maintenance or by a second storm.

Make an inventory list of all damaged contents. Not all contents are destroyed by water but may be able to be cleaned and disinfected.  But when making your inventory, assume the worst. You can always remove an item from your list, but you may have trouble later remembering all the items that were damaged.

Minimize damage as quickly as you can. Insurance will not cover damage that is considered to have been preventable. If you have damage to your roof, for example, tarp it immediately. If it should begin to rain again the insurance may not cover the damage because rain has been “allowed” to enter your home.

Release water from the ceiling by using a nail on the end of a stick to poke a small hole at the edge of the sag to release the water. Poking a hole at the center of the sag could cause a collapse. Repeat the process working toward the center of the sag until all of the water drains.

Test for water trapped in walls by removing the baseboard and poking small holes in the wallboard about two inches above the floor. If water drains, cut or drill holes large enough to allow water to drain.

Open (do not force) windows, doors, (both interior and exterior), fireplace flue, cabinets and drawers to help with the drying process.

Remove floor coverings from flooded areas. Take pictures and save a small sample of any carpet/upholstery for your insurance adjuster.

Take wet floor covering and upholstered furniture outside to dry out. Mold grows very quickly and can be life-threatening, so remove the threat as much as possible. Wash and disinfect the entire flooded area — including air ducts, outlets, wall switches, light sockets, furniture, walls, clothing, bedding, and other contents.

Remove as much debris and mud as possible from around your home. These may not only become dangerous if another storm were to hit, but they also make a great home for unwanted snakes, rodents and other critters.

If you have a basement drain it slowly, because a dramatic change in pressure could cause a collapse. If you are in doubt consult an expert.

Never drink tap water after a flood. Wait until the authorities have told you it is safe. Never eat food that has been in contact with floodwaters. Wash all canned foods that have been in flood waters with disinfectant and then clean water, before opening. Be sure to also disinfect the can opener. If in doubt, throw it out.

Prepare today by reviewing your insurance policies, copying important documents, purchasing safety items, revitalizing 72 hour kits, and stocking up on supplies for disinfecting and clean-up. Consider adding flood insurance to your policy if you are in an area prone to flooding or landslides. Insurance must be in place for 30 days before a disaster to be in force.

Take time now to review with your family the dangers and steps you will take if flooding should occur in your area. Whether the whole world is underwater, or just your street, the end result for each family involved is the same — the prepared fare relatively well, and others are doomed to the fate of the unprepared.

There is no season for disasters. They are in the news every month, and can unfold on any day, at any hour. Sometimes they affect a few, and on occasion, the masses. We can systematically prepare for the most likely events predicted for our neighborhood, and then move on to more general issues of provident living. As we prepare to take care of family and neighbors, we are rewarded with the peace of mind to better enjoy the so-called “ordinary” events of life.

Food prices are going up, up, up. Now is the time to get serious about food storage. For help see Carolyn’s blog and her book Mother Hubbard What She’s Doing Now: A Guide to Food Storage for the 21st Century. The archives for Carolyn’s radio show Ready or Not can be found at: