Army National Guard photo by Lt. Zachary West
Hurricane Harvey has once again reminded us of the awesome destructive power that nature holds. For raw power, a major hurricane, like Harvey, surpasses anything man can create, even a nuclear bomb. The bomb’s energy is concentrated in a much smaller area, increasing its impact on whatever is within its blast radius. But the overall energy of a hurricane, spread over a much larger area and a much longer time, far surpasses it.
Most of the damage by hurricanes isn’t caused by the high winds, but by the water that they bring. It’s hard to believe, but water, something we need for life, is one of the most destructive materials on the earth. It can destroy anything, given enough quantity and time.
For this reason, as well as the suddenness of a flood hitting, it is difficult to defend against one. But if we want to be truly prepared for any disaster, then we must include the possibility of flooding in that preparation. There are few areas in the country that are not subject to the potential of flooding, even if the location is not considered to be in what is known as a “100-year flood zone.” Besides, there once was a time when the entire world flooded, so it’s not prudent to think any of us are safe.
It’s important to note that only people who live in one of those 100-year flood zones are required to buy flood insurance as a condition of their home’s mortgage. So, if you don’t live in one of those areas, you probably don’t have flood insurance. What this means is that if your home gets flooded, the insurance company isn’t going to help.
Prepare Your Home for Flooding
The average American home isn’t designed for flooding. The materials we use and the style of construction we have is easily damaged by water. Should your home flood, you can expect to have to replace drywall, carpeting and wood trim, at an absolute minimum. You also might have problems with mold forming from the water, requiring extensive treatment to eliminate.
Homes in Mexico and many other emerging countries are built out of cinder blocks and cement, with tile floors. While not as elegant as our homes, these structures withstand the ravages of flooding much easier. Once the flood waters subside and things dry out, the home can be cleaned up and repainted, relatively easily returning it to its pre-flood condition.
But we don’t have that option; therefore, it’s best to keep our homes from flooding, if we can. While that may be difficult, it’s not impossible.
The standard way of protecting a home or other structure from flooding is with a wall of sandbags. Such a wall must be continuous, without any gaps and of an even height. If there are any breaks in the wall or a low spot in its height, you can be sure that the flood waters will find them.
Any sandbag wall or other protective measure must be built at least a few feet away from the home. Some water will seep through the sandbags, so you must have a space there where you can pump out the water that seeps through, sending it over the wall.
It doesn’t work to just pile sandbags against the door, unless you are only getting an inch or two of water. Besides the problem of seepage through the sandbags, homes are not built to be waterproof against water seeping through the walls. Water can seep through at the base, even with a brick home. If you look, brick homes have some gaps without mortar, near the base, to act as vents. If air can get in there, you can be sure that water can, too.
The biggest problem with sandbags is that they require a lot of material and a lot of physical work. There are some flood control alternatives on the market, which can be used in place of sandbags. These are basically flexible plastic tubes, which can be filled with water, forming a barrier that is much like the sandbags. While more expensive, the advantage of them is their ease of setup and smaller storage space requirements.
Prepare Your Stockpile for Flooding
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A lot of survivalists/preppers store their stockpiles in the basement, the first part of any home to flood. This can be devastating, as the first place on any home to flood is the basement. Those supplies, which will be desperately needed to survive the aftermath of the flood, could end up destroyed, if not properly stored.
By properly stored, I’m referring to being waterproofed. Everything you have as part of your survival stockpile should be stored in such a way as to be waterproof. Canned goods are already waterproof, but most dry foods aren’t. But if you store them in five-gallon buckets, they can be waterproof, too
Don’t just stop with waterproofing your food, though; take care of your other supplies, as well. One way to do this is by storing at least some of them on the second floor of your home or in the attic. While a hot attic isn’t the greatest place to store food, many other items can store there safely. As long as the roof remains intact, chances are that even if your home floods, those items will remain safe and protected, ready for you to use, while you are trying to salvage your home and put your life back together again.
Make sure that your stockpile is split up. If everything is in the basement, and your basement is flooded, then you’re not going to have anything to eat until you pump out your basement. So even though that food is packed in waterproof containers, it won’t be doing you a bit of good.
Prepare to Bug Out
Often the best preparation for a flood is to get out of there. When the dam outside of Oroville, Calif., was at risk of collapsing, the town and surrounding areas were evacuated. Few of those people were prepared for that, so they ended up just grabbing what they could and fleeing.
The same happened in Houston in 2005, when Hurricane Rita was expected to hit the city. An order for evacuation went out, putting the metropolitan area’s 5.6 million inhabitants on the road and creating a 100-mile-long traffic jam. Due to the problems that this evacuation caused, the mayor of Houston didn’t declare an evacuation for Hurricane Harvey, leaving the citizens right in the path of one of the most devastating hurricanes in U.S. history.
The lesson here is not to expect the government to tell you when to bug out. Officials will make the best decisions they can, but they can’t peer into the future any better than you and I can.
You must make your own decision, and you should do it before the government does. That way, you can beat the rush and not end up being part of that 100-mile-long, 18-hour traffic jam. But that means being ready so that when you do have to go, you can do so quickly, bugging out before others do.
What if it’s too Late?
But this may not always be possible. The people of Houston really had no idea that they would be subject to such a savage storm. Also, Hurricane Harvey wasn’t really headed toward Houston, but rather much farther south. Less than 24 hours before hitting the city, it was headed straight for the Rio Grande Valley, 350 miles away. A last-minute change of direction caused the hurricane to make landfall near Corpus Christi. From there it followed the coast, hitting Houston shortly after.
So, you may not be able to bug out beforehand, unless you decide to become paranoid enough to bug out every time clouds are forming. For that matter, flash floods can happen in many places, without there being a cloud in the visible sky. You never know what’s going to happen. Then what?
To start with, you need to keep alert when a storm is occurring that could cause flooding. Track the storm’s progress, rainfall and potential storm track. If it is a tropical storm or hurricane, the National Hurricane Center’s website is a great resource for this. So is satellite imagery and Doppler weather radar. Get all the information you can and keep up to date.
As flooding occurs, move to higher ground. If you live in a two-story home, you can move to the upper story. In cases where time allows, you might even be able to move some of your possessions from the first floor to the second, protecting them from the water.
Whatever you do, don’t go into your attic to avoid the water. Your attic doesn’t have an escape hatch onto the roof. People have died that way when the waters continued to rise and they couldn’t get out of their attics. Rather, go out a window and climb onto the roof. You can be rescued from there.
Better yet, have some means of escape on hand. This usually means a boat, which is a rather expensive investment. But you could use a rubber raft, canoe or kayak instead. If you want to go even cheaper, inflatable air mattresses make fairly good emergency rafts. While they may be difficult to maneuver, they will keep you and your family afloat. You can pole them along, with long poles, rather than paddling them.
Always be sure to know where higher ground is. You can find this by downloading topographical maps of your area from the USGS (US Geological Survey) here. These maps will provide you with detailed topographical information about your area, showing hills and valleys, along with the actual elevation of the terrain. You might even want to print the topographical map of your area and have it laminated.
With this knowledge and your makeshift raft, you can rescue yourself and your family, making your way toward higher ground. Chances are that if you do that, someone in a boat will find you along the way and offer to tow you. With a little bit of rope and some care on the part of the boat handler, you’ll quickly make your way to safety.
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