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How to Survive a Flood While in Your Vehicle

Every year thousands of motorists encounter high water on the roadways. In most cases this accounts for a mere inconvenience as drivers must turn around and seek another safer route. However, for drivers who suddenly or mistakenly enter flooded areas, dangerous hazards lurk. Even a foot of water is enough to stall a car and strand its occupants.  A mere two feet of watery current is enough to sweep a vehicle (including larger, sturdier SUV’s and pickup trucks) away.

Dangerous conditions can happen rapidly, even in places floods aren’t expected. Take the recent Atmore, Alabama flash flood for instance.  On December 14th, 2009 heavy rains prompted Atmore’s Bushy Creek to overflow. One local noted the area hadn’t experienced a flood in her 30 years of residing there. In less than an hour, Bushy Creek swelled from its normal 7-8 feet width to the size of a football field, as flood waters surged even above the bridges on Deere Creek Road.

As Karrie Rolin motored between two Atmore bridges, the current swept her and her vehicle away. According to Ms. Rolin, only five minutes before the same road was passable. Due to the quick actions of more than 20 emergency workers and residents, including Mike Allen, who used his personal jet-ski, Karrie Rolin was rescued. Not before, however, her vehicle filled with icy water and totally submerged.

Karrie Rolin is lucky to be alive. However, many others in similar conditions don’t fare as well. Tragically, over 75 percent of all flood deaths are vehicle related.

Like most dangerous situations, avoiding the hazard is the best safety measure you can do.
  1. Be aware of stormy conditions. Heavy rainstorms, even far upstream, could cause flash floods.
  2. Listen to local forecasts. This is especially important if visiting an area or traveling new roadways. Even small dips in roads can hold enough water to be dangerous.
  3. During periods of heavy rainfall, keep clear of canyons, downstream of dams, and in low lying areas where water funnels near or below roadways.
  4. Barricades warning of high water should be respected. Never drive around them.
  5. Do not camp near areas of possible flooding.
  6. Driving at night during flood-like conditions can be hazardous. Use caution or stay home.
  7. Never drive through a flooded road. It’s very hard to judge the depth of water covered surfaces.
  8. Remember the following:
  • 6 inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars.
  • 12 inches will usually stall a vehicle.
  • 2 feet of water will generally cause vehicles to float.
  • 2 feet of rushing water will sweep vehicles away.

If you do encounter flooded areas while in your vehicle:

  •  Attempt to back up and out of the flood.
  • Abandon vehicle if it stalls and move to higher ground.
  • If your car is suddenly swept away and sinking, the doors will not open until it’s filled with water.  Don’t panic. Undo or cut your seat belt free before this happens. Hold your breath and open door once pressure equalizes. If you can, while vehicle is flooding, find a heavy object to break a window in case door sticks. Move fast! Most vehicles fill with water quickly. Swim to surface.
  • If you are outside your vehicle and dragged into the current, point your toes downstream. This will keep your head from striking an object. Try to grab on to a stationary object, such as a tree or a large rock. Hold on until rescued or climb ashore and out of danger if possible.  Don’t re-enter flooded waters

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