How to Prepare for (And Survive) a Flood


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Startling images of the massive floods inundating Kentucky illustrate the scale of damage that can result from immense rainfall, which has caused rivers throughout the Bluegrass state to massively overflow their banks. On Monday, Governor Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency, announcing in a statement that the National Guard had been mobilized to deal with the deluge. The Associated Press reports 13,000 residents of Kentucky and neighboring West Virginia were without power on Monday.

With climate change primed to make extreme weather events more common in the future, it’s imperative to know how to prepare yourself for a flood if one occurs where you live—even if you think you’re in a safe area.

Know the basics

It’s best to use common sense during a flood, and that means avoiding doing anything reckless. For example, don’t walk, swim, or drive through a flood. This is especially true of flash flooding, which occurs within six and three hours of heavy rainfall, a levee or dam breaking, or a hurricane. Keep in mind that only a foot of water can sweep a car away, and six inches of water is forceful enough to knock a pedestrian off their feet.

Always consult local authorities and track national weather alerts provided by NOAA’s National Weather Service. Stay tuned to updates provided by your local authorities, which you can usually get through social media or by tuning into local news broadcasts.

Have a plan

You need a comprehensive plan that covers everything you and your loved will do when facing a flood. It should be exhaustive, outlining safe places where you can seek refuge, strategies for how to corral any pets and essential valuables, and the preparation of a kit with all the necessary protective equipment you might need in a pinch.

According to Ready.gov, your flood preparedness plan should include:

  • Evacuation routes and shelter plans: If you’re able to safely escape a flooded zone before it’s consumed with water, make plans to stay with family and friends. If family and friends aren’t available, check with local authorities to locate shelters in your area.
  • Non-perishable food items and water to last several days: Set aside a cache of non-perishable foods, ideally in an easy-to-grab bag that can endure the conditions. The CDC has more info on food and water preparation during floods.
  • An emergency kit: The CDC recommends preparing an emergency kit including, “food, flares, booster cables, maps, tools, a first aid kit, fire extinguisher, sleeping bags, etc.”

As a general rule, you want your emergency kit to include as much as possible. In addition to to the previously mentioned items, add in some disinfectant, insect repellant to ward off the mosquitos that swarm flooded areas, extra charging cables for phones and devices, and, of course, any medications you might need. As Ready.gov notes, you cannot take anything for granted, because “after a flood, you may not have access to these supplies for days or even weeks.”

Always listen to instructions from authorities, and if you’re told to evacuate, make sure that you do so.

How to reenter your home safely

Reentering your home after an evacuation due to a flood is challenge in its own right, rife with hazards that may not be immediately apparent. These general safety tips, provided by the University of Minnesota, will help you mitigate some risk:

  • Shut off gas and electricity.
  • Examine your home’s structure for damage. Take a look at the floors and windows and search for signs of cracking and warping. Consult an electrician to help you avert the danger of sparking a fire.
  • Pump any accumulated water out your basement in stages, 1/3 at a time.
  • When entering your home, wear protective gear such as a mask, rubber gloves, rubber boots, and protective goggles. Have the necessary first aid supplies on hand in case of an injury.

Be mindful that there could be debris and other potentially dangerous materials (or animals) lurking in the water. This is more likely outside your home, but it’s possible for snakes or other water-animals to have crept inside along with the rising waters.

The cleaning job ahead of you is likely be gargantuan, so you’ll need to buy disinfectant and cleaning products in huge quantities. The University of Minnesota recommends taking photos of any damage for later insurance claims, and to start your rehabilitation efforts piece by piece, beginning with removing any standing water from your home. Next, rid the house of debris, then shovel out the mud that’s invariably been left behind. From there, clean your home and repair the damage as necessary—which may involve calling in the experts to remove and replace your drywall, clean or replace your insulation, or even a wholesale renovation.