Caught in a Flash Flood? Here’s What You Should Do

Floods are the most common natural disaster in the U.S., according to Ready.gov, and they kill more people annually than tornadoes, hurricanes or lightning. They can arise from too much rain, snow, heavy storms, or even dam breaks—and can come with no warning. 

Flash flooding wreaks havoc on communities, causing power outages, disruptions in transportation, damage to buildings, and landslides. Here’s what to do if you’re caught in the middle of a flash flood.

Don’t Challenge Nature.

Flood waters can be extremely strong. Think you’re tough enough to weather the water? Chances are, you’re not. According to Ready.gov, it only takes six inches of moving water to knock you down, and one foot of moving water to sweep away your vehicle. “Regardless of whether it is a slow flooding or a flash flood, do not walk, swim or drive through flood waters,” said FEMA Ready Campaign Director Lea Crager. “Turn around; don’t drown!” Stay off of bridges over fast-moving water, too.

Get to Higher Ground—Fast.

But don’t get in your attic. Emergency experts say, if getting to the highest point in your home happens to be a closed attic, don’t get in. You may get trapped by rising flood water. And, though it seems logical as the highest point in your home, only get on the roof if it’s absolutely necessary. Once there, signal for help.

Read: Best Water Leak Detectors

Follow Evacuation Orders.

We’ve all heard stories of those who defy authorities in emergency situations. Don’t do this. If you’re told to evacuate during a flash flood, authorities believe there’s a good reason. “Failing to evacuate flooded areas or entering flood waters can lead to injury or death,” said Crager. If you’re planning to stay where you are, or evacuation procedures are not in order, get to higher ground or move to a higher floor in your home or office. 

Don’t Leave Your Car.

Since you never know when a flash flood might happen, you could be caught anywhere. Ideally, you’d be at home and find a way to call for help, listen to the emergency radio, and get to a high point. If not, and you’re stuck in your car while trapped in rapidly moving water, don’t attempt to exit the car. 

Experts say the safest thing to do is stay inside, due to the increased risk of being swept away with rushing waters while attempting to stand. If, however, water is rising inside the car, get on the roof and signal for help.

Be Aware of Electrocution Risks.

Do not touch electrical equipment if you are standing in water or if you can tell that the equipment is wet. If it’s safe, turn off the electricity in your home or building – this will prevent electric shock. Also, be mindful that underground or downed power lines can electrically charge the water in the event of a flood.

Read: Alder Security

Be Ready in Advance. 

Prepare in advance and know the risk in your area. FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center is the nation’s official public source for flood hazard information. Use this map to research your local area’s official flood risk, and be sure you sign up for your community’s warning system or for national emergency alerts from the Emergency Alert System or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

Also, since just one inch of water can cause up to $25,000 in damage to your home, consider flood insurance as a way to protect yourself from financial devastation. 

The Bottom Line

Floods are the most common type of natural disaster and can be life-threatening. Know the risk in your area and prepare for emergency alerts first, but if you do find yourself caught in a flash flood, with these helpful tips, you’ll keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

(Photo by Warren Faidly / GettyImages)


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Contributing Writer

Virginia Brown

Virginia Brown is a freelance journalist who has covered home security, safety, and other topics for Safety.com and elsewhere.