The last week has seen Houston under siege from the elements as Hurricane Harvey descended on the city. The slow-moving, record-shattering tropical storm has battered the city for more than a week, and officials have warned that a swift improvement in conditions is unlikely to happen. At present, hundreds of thousands of residents are under evacuation orders, and shelters are bloated with people craving news about the safety of their loved ones and the state of their homes.
The city is currently focusing on the rescue, and not on damage assessment and recovery just yet. The storm is expected to move into southwest Louisiana soon.
When it comes to a hurricane, it’s not just the hurricane’s motion that’s a problem, but the severe flooding that accompanies it (and the problems attendant to that). For instance, large rafts of fire ants have been spotted floating in the floodwaters. Displaced by the flooding, the insects have responded by creating rafts built on top of dead ants to stay afloat and to keep dry. Who would have thought that would be something to have to contend with, on top of everything else?
With such large-scale disaster, and large-scale rescue, how do officials succeed in ensuring the maximum number of people receive aid?
You can help in such a situation by being proactive. Today’s blog will take you through the safety measures you can follow if you’re caught in inclement weather, particularly flooding. This will include both preparatory and response actions.
How to prepare for a flood
- Identify the risk in your local area.
- Prepare a home emergency plan, and identify risks around your home. Learn the elevation level of your property and whether your land may be subject to flooding so that you can plan the feasibility of staying at home versus evacuating to higher ground. Verify that your home is up to building codes and that you are safe taking shelter there during a hurricane; alternatively, move to a municipal hurricane shelter.
- Consider buying solar-powered and hand-crank emergency equipment, such as hand-crank cell-phone chargers and solar battery chargers, which can be very handy when the power is out.
- Remove leaves (from downpipes or gutters) or any other items that can increase the risk of flooding in your area.
- Have an evacuation plan and ensure everyone in your family knows where to go to find shelter.
- Stock up on basic necessities, such as food, water and dry clothing.
- Prepare an emergency toolkit. This should include:
- a first aid kit
- portable radio with batteries
- candles and waterproof matches
- drinking water
- a multi-tool
- whistle, and
- emergency contact numbers.
What to do during flooding
- Monitor current flood warnings. Listen to the radio for emergency warnings, evacuation advice and weather updates. Pay special attention to when you can expect the most intense wind and rain.
- Avoid entering floodwater unless it is necessary, and never underestimate the strength of floodwater, even if you are inside a vehicle.
- Follow all instructions from emergency authorities.
- Turn off all electricity and water and take your cell phone with you.
- Assist elderly and disabled neighbours.
- Watch for downed power lines, some of which may be ‘live’ and will present an electrocution hazard.
What to do in a flood – in your car
- Always turn on your vehicle’s headlights in wet weather.
- In heavy rain use the brighter (rear fog lights) setting for your car’s tail lights.
- Make sure your wiper blades are in good condition and do a clean sweep.
- Do not allow the inside of your car's windows to mist up. Switch on front and rear screen de-misters and your aircon – yes, you read right. Your aircon dries the air and removes mist almost instantly.
- Check your tyre tread: The legal minimum is 1 mm but for safety's sake make sure it's three times that.
- Worn shock-absorbers don't keep the rubber hard down on the road; no road contact = no ABS, no grip and very little braking.
- Cloudy and rainy weather means poor visibility. Take extra care when overtaking – and remember not all drivers coming towards you will have their headlights on.
- Adjust speed and following distance; at least six seconds to the car ahead. Ensure you can stop within the visible area ahead.
- Avoid abrupt acceleration, braking and steering, which can result in a skid.
- Don't drive through deep water. It could damage your car and possibly cost you your life.
- If you have no option but to drive through such water, then drive slowly in a low gear, holding the steering wheel steady.
- After driving in heavy rain allow your brakes to dry – especially if your vehicle has drum brakes.
- If you experience car/bike trouble turn on your hazard lights and try to move completely off the road. If possible, ensure that you have a reflective warning triangle to erect some distance behind your vehicle.
- Never drive into water covering the road. You do not know how deep it is or if the road is washed away.
- Turn around and go the other way.
- Look out for flooding at highway dips, bridges and low areas.
- If the vehicle stalls, leave it immediately and seek higher ground.
- Be cautious, especially at night when visibility is impaired.
- Do not park your vehicle along streams, particularly during threatening conditions.
What to do if the storm is accompanied by gale force winds
- Disconnect your appliances.
- Move objects in the yard, such as patio furniture, that may become airborne into a garage or other out-of-harm's-way storage area.
- Stay inside well clear of windows, sheltering in the strongest part of the house (internal hallway, bathroom or cellar). Keep curtains and blinds closed.
- Install storm shutters over your windows, or board up vulnerable windows with 5/8-inch plywood.
- Remember to keep an emergency kit with you (see above for what to include).
If possible stay in secure shelter.
- Make sure you have a way to get into an attic if you are on the first floor of a house, and make sure to have a hatchet or some other means of getting out of the attic to the roof in case the water level goes that high, especially if you live in a low-lying area.
- Avoid driving by road as far as possible; stay in your vehicle if caught on the road, with the car handbrake on and parked well clear of trees, power lines and possible flooding.
- Never drive, ride or walk in floodwaters.
- Fill buckets, sinks and baths with water in case the water supply becomes restricted.
How to protect your business in a storm
- Move as much of your contents as possible to higher floors.
- Raise heavy electrical items off the floor, and place them on bricks.
- Unplug electrical/sensitive items and if possible move them high up or store them on higher floors.
- Secure any items that are stored externally, which might move and cause damage on impact.
- Turn off mains supplies and close off flow valves.
- Fit a temporary toilet pan seal to prevent the flood water coming back up the toilets.
- Keep important documents in watertight plastic bags in a high place or even away from the premises.
- Put into place temporary flood barriers for doors and windows.
- Stop any deliveries due at the premises.
What to do after a flood
- Stay alert for continued rainfall and local flooding even if the bulk of the storm appears to be over.
- Avoid driving and stay off the streets in general unless you have compelling reasons to use them.
- Before entering your house, wait until the water has dropped below floor level.
- Check with electricity and water authorities to know whether it is safe for you to use these resources.
- Be aware of contamination if water sources have been flooded; this could be unsafe to drink.