Stay on Top: How to Survive a Flood

Stay on Top: How to Survive a Flood

Floods can be caused by major storms that cause water levels to rise quickly in rivers, lakes and other waterways. Excessive rainfall is only one possible reason for flooding; it doesn’t have to rain for a flood to occur. Pent-up dams and dikes can burst, or undersea earthquakes can cause a Tsunami, which in turn throws a literal wall of water that inundates coastal cities or towns. There are also storm surges, which causes seas and nearby bodies of water to overflow and inundate coastal areas. Whatever the cause of the flooding, it pays be prepared to deal with it before, during and after.

Preparing beforehand

As with any disaster, prior preparation is key. The first thing is to stay informed. Listen to local weather reports on TV and radio. Have a radio ready that accepts multiple power options to keep you updated, even in case of power failure.

Next is knowledge. Be sure to know the difference between a “flood watch” and a “flood warning”. A “flood watch” means that a flood is possible in your area, while a “flood warning” means that a flood is imminent or is already occurring. Either way, you should be prepared to evacuate if advised to do so.

If there’s even any hint of possible flooding, prepare your house accordingly and well in advance. Move furniture and electric appliances from your first floor to the second floor of your house if possible. Roll up and store any rugs on higher floors, to avoid them getting soaked and growing mold.

Have a plan

Being ready means not only preparing your static defenses, but having an exit plan should you need to bug out. Sit down with your family members and map out your evacuation plan.

Pick several safe spots where you can meet, in case you aren’t together and communication becomes impossible. List and keep within reach all your cellphone numbers and directions to your rendezvous points. Make sure all members of your household know where your meeting places are and how to get there, and that they’re accessible to everyone.

To help you decide at which places to meet, consult your local Red Cross or emergency office as to which places are designated evacuation sites. Remember if you have working cellphones, text, don’t call. Text messages are easier for networks to send and receive, and won’t tie up the lines for other people to communicate in emergencies.

Have an emergency kit

Keep at least two emergency kits ready, one for the home and another in each car. A sufficient kit will have supplies for every family member to last at least three days; more is better. Pack one gallon of water per person, per day you’re planning your supplies for. Have the same number of days’ worth of food in the kit as well.

If you have a family member that has special medical needs, have at least a week’s supply of their medication stored and ready. Pack at least one change of clothing per person, some blankets and raincoats. When putting together and maintaining your kits:

– Check the food supplies regularly and replace expiring or damaged food.

– Bring personal IDs along with your kit. Take your passports, driver’s licenses, birth certificates and other important documents.

– Always pack extra cash; you may not have access to an ATM or your credit card’s payment facilities when you need to purchase something.

– Pack other important items like duct tape, hand ax, nylon rope or paracord (at least 30 feet), flashlights, baby supplies, pet food, sanitary items, disinfectant, bandages, and other first aid supplies.

– Have extra batteries for your cellphones, and the means to charge them.

– Remember to pack flashlights and enough batteries to power them.

– Have a multi-tool ready for simple repairs.

– Pack a large tarp and some emergency blankets and sleeping bags for improvised shelter.

– Bring along a hand-crank radio; ideally, one that will let you charge your phone and other small items with it

– Have insect repellent and sunscreen ready.

– Have a physical map of the area as well; GPS apps or devices may not always be available.

Home preparation

Well before hurricane season, have a sump pump installed in your basement (if you have one). You can also protect your home from flood damage or keep it to a minimum by filling in cracks in your walls and basement with sealant. Clear all the roof gutters and street drains at your home’s perimeter, making sure they’re not clogged by leaves or other debris. Get flood insurance for your home and other possessions if possible.

As soon as you get flood warnings, turn off the main power breaker and your gas line in your home; don’t wait for the flood to hit. For cooking or heating food, use a camp stove instead of your appliances. (If you do so, be sure to provide adequate ventilation for the stove to prevent the build-up of deadly gases inside your house.) Although you can’t completely waterproof your home, you can lessen flood damage. Place sandbags or plastic bags filled with dirt against the bottoms of doors and low windows; this can minimize entry of floodwater if it’s a few inches. Stow any outdoor furniture and yard decorations you have in higher floors and store gardening tools to avoid them damaging your home’s exterior, and to lessen debris after the flood.

Rethink your interiors if you live in a flood-prone area. Permanently-fixed carpeting can give rise to mold after a flood (
Switch off your home’s main power even if it’s still a flood warning. Even one outlet that comes in contact with floodwater can short your entire home, or worse, electrocute anyone standing in the floodwater (


When to bug out

If you’re aware that the location of your house is flood-prone, don’t wait for a flood warning and leave for higher ground. Head for a safer location with your family and pets. Remember to have that emergency kit ready. Lock all doors and windows before you evacuate. Take only the route prescribed by authorities, as any backroads or shortcuts could be inundated and impassable.

When evacuating by car, a few reminders:

– Leave as early as possible to avoid getting trapped by rising floodwaters and bad traffic.

– Never cross a flooded area unless you’re certain that the flood only reaches halfway up your tires at most.

– Avoid crossing a bridge that’s even partially underwater. If you feel you must cross, be extremely cautious; a section of it may have been destroyed or swept away and you may not see it until it’s too late or the bridge supports may be washed away while you’re on the bridge.

– If you’re unsure of the depth of floodwater on the road ahead, turn back and find another route.

– Be aware of the situation with the waterway upstream from your location. Dam breaks, released debris fields and other events can cause quick changes in the behavior of the waterway and instantly increase your risk.

– Remember that even a small drop in road level translates to a huge difference in floodwater depth. Avoid passing through low-lying areas if possible.

– Be sure that every family member has the same contact person or list of evacuation sites to go to in case any of you are separated during the evacuation.

– If your car stalls in rising floodwaters, take only the emergency kit; abandon the car immediately and make your way to higher ground. Once you’re on safe ground, that’s when you can take photos of your stalled vehicle for insurance purposes. 

– Should you have no choice but to walk through floodwater, get a long stick to help measure the water, keep your stability and probe the area ahead of you. Floodwater will be dirty and difficult to see through.

– Carry small children, don’t let them walk on their own. Floodwater can get fast and rise unpredictably, sweeping small children off their feet and carrying them off.

– If possible, don’t walk in moving water that comes above your knees as anything higher has a great potential of sweeping you off your feet.

– Get out of the water as quickly as possible. Besides the above risks, you’ll be exposed to filth, chemicals, moving debris and animals, all of which can cause illness, injuries or death.

When bugging out by car, always heed the signs (

If you can’t bug out

If for some reason you can’t evacuate your home or the building you’re in, and have been “caught” once the flood hits, you can still survive and enact measures to stay safe until rescue arrives or the flood subsides.


Here are some tips:

– Turn off the gas main and main power breaker. Do this even if the utility companies have shut off their services.

– Get to higher floors or even the roof. Only go into the attic of your home if there is another way out through a window or vent or if you have tools there to make a hole in the roof.

– Never attempt to evacuate on foot. Even an inch of floodwater can be dangerous.

– If you’ve come in contact with floodwater, disinfect with clean water and soap, or even rubbing alcohol.

– Listen for updates with your hand-cranked radio.

– If you have a way to communicate with the local authorities, inform them of your situation and wait for rescue to arrive.

If caught by floodwater

Should you be on foot then suddenly swept off your feet and carried away by rushing floodwater, keep your wits about you. Don’t panic and don’t try to fight the current, you’ll only tire yourself out.

Turn over on your back, keeping your feet pointing downstream; use your feet to push away from any debris that you’re rushing toward. Save your strength, and be on the lookout for something stable to hold onto, like a tree or roof. Once you’ve got yourself anchored, point your feet downstream and yell for help.

A few things to remember:

– Don’t go under debris; other debris and the floodwater can weigh you down and drown you.

– Keep your head above water at all times and pass over debris or avoid it completely.

– Wave with your other arm if you’re strong enough to hang onto a branch or other “anchor” with one arm. to make it easier for rescuers to spot you. Yell for help, and don’t give up until someone rescues you. This is when whistles or other noisemaking tools will come in handy, so keep at least one on your person when evacuating.

After the flood

If the flood caused any damage to your home, take pictures so you can collect on the insurance if you have any.

Whether you’ve evacuated or waited it out, don’t immediately turn back the power and gas main on. Check for gas leaks or broken wiring with flashlights, never candles or gas lanterns. If you hear any hissing or smell gas, stay out of your home and contact the gas company to fix the gas leak. Don’t light any fires near your home.

Let any floodwater completely recede first or use a pump to speed up drainage. Drain your basement, and check for any wild animals that may have been trapped there. It’s not unusual for snakes to be trapped in your basement after a flood, so exercise caution. Use a stick to poke around or overturn any debris to check for and ward off small animals.

Have your home’s electrical wiring, gas pipes and sewage systems all checked by professionals first before using any of your lights, stoves or water fixtures. Once you’ve been given the all-clear, move back in and clean and disinfect everything that got submerged in floodwater.

Ideally, you should consult professionals to dry out any floors that were flooded, and get utility companies to inspect your home’s electrical, gas and sewage systems (

Final notes

As with any catastrophe, it’s possible for you to come out on top if you keep a cool head and take the time to get ready before any flood strikes. Remember to stay informed of the weather conditions in your area, get all the members of your household involved, do the prescribed measures and be on the lookout for new ways to bolster your home against such a calamity. A cool head, prior preparation and the right knowledge go a long way in staying on top of a flood.