Before the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 that resulted in the deaths of more than 230,000 people in 14 bordering countries, many people didn’t know much about this phenomenon, especially in the Western Hemisphere. But tsunamis have been around for a long time and can cause a huge amount of damage.
A tsunami is a series of waves caused by the displacement of a large volume of water. The impact is usually limited to coastal areas, but the resulting flooding can have enormous destructive power. Although they have nothing to do with tides, tsunamis are more likely to look like a rising tide than a typical wave as they roll toward shore. Scientists still have much to learn about tsunamis, including why some smaller ocean earthquakes can cause larger tsunamis than some larger ocean earthquakes.
We in North America rarely encounter tsunamis, but most of us are familiar with flooding problems. Included in U.S. flooding history have been the Johnstown Flood of 1889 that killed 2,200 in Pennsylvania, the Mississippi River Flood of 1927 that resulted in 246 deaths across 10 States and the Ohio River Flood in 1937 that killed 385 in six States.
Fortunately, more recent flooding in the U.S. has resulted in far fewer deaths, but it has still caused significant damage to homes, businesses, sewage systems, roadways, bridges and crops, and has produced widespread power outages. All 50 States have experienced some flooding or flash floods in the past five years, so no one is immune.
How serious is the threat? Flash floods can bring walls of water from 10 to 20 feet high, a car can be carried away by just two feet of flood water and just a few inches of water from a flood can cause thousands of dollars in damages.
And while flooding doesn’t cause as many deaths in the U.S. as it used to, from 1983 to 2012 flooding resulted in more fatalities than tornados, hurricanes or lightning, according to the U.S. Natural Hazard Statistics.
A big problem – which many people don’t discover until it’s too late – is that most homeowners insurance policies don’t cover flood damage. From 2003 to 2012, total flood insurance claims averaged nearly $4 billion per year. Also, Federal disaster assistance is not a gift… it’s a loan with interest.
Having an emergency response plan in place in the event of flooding is important. Your 72-hour survival kit and bug-out bags should be prepared in advance, and your important documents should be organized.
Preparation is the key. Following are four action steps you can take before flooding occurs in order to be better prepared:
- Visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood map site to discover whether you are in a flood plain and where the nearest high ground is located.
- If you are a property owner, especially in an area prone to flooding, make sure you have sufficient flood insurance.
- Be sure to have an emergency radio that tunes into reports from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.
- Practice your escape plan with your family. Going through the motions now will help when the time comes for the real thing.
If flooding has already started or seems to be on the way, here are four steps you can take to protect yourself and your family:
- Because you may need to move to higher ground on short notice, tune into emergency radio and be ready to move quickly.
- If you’re driving and you see standing water ahead, stop. Six inches of water is enough to stall out most cars, and it may be deeper than it appears. Same thing if you’re on foot. Fast moving water can carry people off. Stay away from streams, sewer drains and drainage canals.
- Know the difference between a flood warning and a flood watch. If the situation appears to be worsening, stop what you’re doing and get to higher ground right away.
- If there is time to evacuate your home, turn off all of your valves, unplug appliances and move your most expensive items to the highest possible point of your home.
Following the flood threat, take the following four action steps, keeping in mind that the threat may only seem to be over:
- Don’t walk into any standing water. There could be objects in the water that you can’t see, including electrical wires.
- Continue to listen to emergency radio. You may be informed of a secondary threat of which you were not aware.
- Keep your eyes focused on potential hazards, including broken glass, downed power lines, ruptured gas lines and damaged structures. And keep in mind that standing floodwater could be contaminated by gas, oil, sewage or chemicals.
- Remain away from the area until city authorities declare that it is safe to return.