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7 Tips for Staying Safe During Flash Floods

Home Insurance

By Joanne Lemna | August 4, 2016

The first time Peter and Cathy Dhopad saw Canmore Alberta. they were in complete awe. A beautiful resort town in the foothills of the Rockies. It was a magical winter wonderland in the cold months and a lovely hot desert-like environment in the summer months. So the Dhopads were more than a little caught off guard when their home located near the town’s Cougar Creek was swept away during the June 2013 flash floods.

The Dhopads weren’t hurt but a lifetime of memories were either damaged or destroyed during the heavy-rainfall induced floods that impacted southern Alberta that year. Thankfully the Dhopads were paying premiums on a comprehensive homeowners’ insurance policy. After all the assessments and appraisals they were able to rebuild their home and continue to live in their Canmore community. But the ordeal prompted the Dhopads to start educating themselves on how to protect their home their belongings and themselves from a flash flood.

Floods are the most costly natural disaster in Canada in terms of property damage. The 2013 Alberta floods prompted municipal provincial and federal government action as well as military help and non-governmental organization aid. Insurance payments totalled more than $1.7 billion. According to Environment Canada, flash floods can occur in any region in the countryside or in a city at virtually any time of the year but are most common May 15 to July 15 due to snowmelt and rainfall. “Flash floods have affected hundreds of thousands of Canadians,” reports Public Safety Canada.

Here are 7 tips for staying safe during a flash flood:

  1. Avoid walking or driving through flood waters.
  2. Get to the high ground.
  3. Stay informed.
  4. Have a 72-hour kit with the essentials.
  5. Protect your home from flood damage, if you can.
  6. Only assess the damage if it’s safe to do so.
  7. Ensure you’re properly prepared for any cleanup.

#1: Avoid walking or driving through flood waters.

Did you know it takes just six inches of moving water to knock you off your feet and just 24 inches of water can sweep away a vehicle? Fast-moving water is a tremendous force. Stay safe and stay out of the water.

It’s also a good idea to avoid riverbanks and areas surrounding bodies of water, as they may have been destabilized in the flooding.

#2: Get to the high ground during a flash flood.

It sounds obvious but getting to the high ground can exponentially increase your chances of survival if you’re in a flash flood. If you happen to be driving and the floodwaters start to rise above your car but the water isn’t moving, abandon the car. The ultimate goal is to get to higher ground. Remember though don’t leave your vehicle if the water is rushing around you. You could find yourself swept up by the current caught by an undertow or hit with debris that’s already accumulated in the fast-moving water.

If you’re not caught up in the water but there is a flash flood get to high ground as quickly as possible preferable away from any river or stream banks.

#3: Stay informed about the flooding situation.

The Alberta Emergency Alert system should notify you by your smartphone television or radio if there is an impending flash flood. However, it’s important that you stay connected to be prepared if the situation changes. Flooding can happen very quickly.

If possible, have a crank or battery-operated radio in your emergency kit. Use the radio, your phone, computer or television to stay informed about the flooding situation and stay up to date on any evacuation orders.

Following local news outlets, government departments and your municipal government on social media is a good way to stay informed. You can also check:

#4: Have a 72-hour kit with only the essentials.

Be prepared if you need to evacuate.  ake only the essentials. This may include:

  • Essential documents such as passports, health care information, marriage licenses et cetera.
  • Clothing – make sure to include underwear, socks, sleeping clothes, and a few changes of clothes.
  • Your everyday toiletries.
  • Food for a few days – make sure you’ll be able to prepare it on the go.
  • Water for a few days.
  • Phone charger and power banks.
  • Any medications.
  • A small first aid kit with your commonly used medications, bandaids and such.
  • Your wallet.
  • Blankets or sleeping bags.
  • A few personally important items.
  • Pets and their essential items such as food, water, kennel, leash/harness/collar, medications and some treats or toys.

It’s a good idea to have digital copies of all important documents – if you don’t have this, create them!

If you are under an evacuation order you may have some time to pack or you may need to leave immediately. Follow the directions given to you as staying too long could put you in danger.

#5: Protect your home if possible.

There are some things you can do to protect your home if flooding is a risk or you may have to evacuate the area:

Before flooding, you should:

  • Clear your home’s gutters drains and downspouts regularly.
  • Install sewer backup valves and ensure they’re working.
  • Install sump pumps and ensure they’re working. You may want a generator to keep sump pumps operating if you lose power.
  • Ensure downspouts drain at least 5m from your home, preferably onto a grassy area.
  • Ensure your property’s grade drains away from your home.
  • Landscape your yard to better retain water (plants lots of plants, create a rain garden, ensure there’s proper drainage).
  • Check your windows and doors to ensure the sealing is in good condition – repair if it isn’t.
  • Check your home’s foundation and repair any cracks.
  • Ensure any window wells have proper drainage and the barrier is above ground level.

If flooding is imminent or you may need to evacuate:

  • Bring in all outdoor furniture.
  • Move all furniture and personal belongings to the highest floor possible.
  • Store items in sealable plastic containers, if possible, rather than cardboard boxes.
  • Disconnect all electrical appliances (do not do this if you are wet or standing in water).
  • If instructed by emergency personnel or announcements, disconnect your gas and electricity (this helps prevents fires and explosions).
  • Sandbag the edges of your home particularly window-wells windows and doors.
  • If you’re evacuating secure the home by locking all doors and windows.

#6: Only assess damage when it’s safe to do so.

Even if a flash flood has passed, you can still get hurt if you enter an unsafe home. Water can cause extensive damage as well as mould. Follow the direction of emergency personnel and only enter if it is declared safe to do so.

You should avoid moving water and pay attention to local alerts as additional flooding can occur.

#7: Ensure you’re properly protected for cleanup.

If your home is cleared for cleanup after a flash flood ensure you’re properly protected. Depending on the extent of the damage you may need:

  • Long pants and sleeves
  • Boots
  • Rubber gloves
  • Eye protection (goggles)
  • N-95 mask

Make sure you take photographs of the damage. Throw away anything that can’t be cleaned and insure you clean everything thoroughly.

If you need to make a claim, call your broker. They’ll help walk you through the claims process sort out what paperwork you need to file or keep and understand what’s covered.

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