How to Survive a Flood: Flood Safety Tips

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Learn How to Prepare for and Survive a Flood

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Are you in a flood-susceptible area? Flooding is the common natural disaster in the United States—usually caused by heavy, sudden rainfall. Quickly review these flood safety guidelines—with tips BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER a flood to increase your chances of survival and protect your property.

Each year, more deaths occur due to flooding than from any other thunderstorm-related hazard. Approximately 75% of all Presidential disaster declarations are associated with flooding.

The most common cause of flooding is water due to rain that accumulates faster than soils can absorb it or rivers can carry it away. Flooding can occur because of:

  • prolonged rain falling over several days,
  • when intense rain falls over a short period of time, or 
  • when debris or ice jam causes a river or stream to overflow onto the surrounding area.
  • Flooding can also result from the failure of a water control structure, such as a levee or dam.

Flood-susceptible areas include valleys, plains, canyons, swamplands, the coasts, and anywhere near large bodies of water. 

Did You Know: Hurricanes, the most violent storms on Earth, are more dangerous because of flooding than high winds. Also, if hurricane rains occur in an area which is already saturated with water, this increases the chance of flooding—possibly across hundreds of miles inland! 

Check these critical flood safety guidelines, courtesy of FEMA and the Red Cross. Please prioritize your safety!

Flood Safety Tips

Before Floods

Be prepared! If you live in an area that’s susceptible to flooding—or even if you don’t—it’s a good idea to be prepared for the worst. 

  • Pay close attention to the radio, television, or your cellphone for official flooding updates. Know the difference between a flood “watch” and “warning”:
    • A flood watch means a flood is possible in your area.
    • A flood warning means flooding is already occurring or will occur soon—and you should be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice.
  • Have an emergency survival kit on hand with at least three days of supplies for everyone in the household, including water (one gallon per person per day), non-perishable food, a flashlight, battery-powered or hand-crank radio, portable or solar-powered phone chargers, extra batteries, a first aid kit, a 7-day supply of medications, a multi-purpose tool, sanitation and personal hygiene items, and copies of important personal documents.
  • Ensure your drainage systems (eq., ditches) are not clogged with debris; this could lead to flooding and property damage.

.Flash Flooding

  • 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. Flash flooding is the most dangerous type of flooding by far, due to the sheer force and volume of flowing water that can accumulate.
  • Be aware of streams, drainage channels, canyons, and other areas known to flood suddenly. Flash floods can occur in these areas even without the typical warning signs, such as rain clouds or heavy rain.

See our article on predicting flash floods.


During Floods

Evacuate if Necessary

When a flood warning is issued for your area, evacuate. Head for higher ground and stay there until you are told that the area is safe.

  • If you have time prior to evacuation, secure your home. Bring in outdoor furniture. Move essential items to the highest part of the upper floor of your home.
  • 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.
  • Do not walk through moving water. Six inches of moving water can sweep you off your feet. 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.
  • “Turn around, don’t drown!” If you come upon a flowing stream where water is above your ankles, stop, turn around and go another way. People underestimate the force and power of water.
  • Keep children out of the water.

Driving in Floods

Half of all flood-related drownings occur when a vehicle is driven into hazardous flood water.

  • If you come upon a flooded road while driving, turn around and go another way.
  • 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 quickly swept away.
    • Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars, causing loss of control and possible stalling.
    • One foot of water will float many vehicles.
    • Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles—including SUVs and pick-up trucks.

fema_-_32048_-_red_car_floating_in_flood_waters_in_oklahoma_full_width.jpgCredit: FEMA

After a Flood

  • Listen for news reports to learn whether the community’s water supply is safe to drink.
  • Avoid floodwaters; water may be contaminated by oil, gasoline, or raw sewage. Water may also be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.
  • Avoid moving water.
  • Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded. Roads may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car.
  • Stay away from downed power lines and report them to the power company.
  • Return home only when authorities indicate it is safe.
  • 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.
  • Service damaged septic tanks, cesspools, pits, and leaching systems as soon as possible. Damaged sewage systems are serious health hazards.
  • Clean and disinfect everything that got wet. Mud left from floodwater can contain sewage and chemicals.

For more weather disaster survival tips, see How to Survive a Tornado and How to Survive a Hurricane. Also see our article on what to do during a power outage.

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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