American Survival Guide - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - By Michael D’angona

Don’t fall vic­tim to a flash flood.

The outdoors can be as nasty as it is beau­ti­ful. What might look like a great place for you to set up camp could be­come the worst de­ci­sion you make in your life­time. This is be­cause, de­pend­ing upon your ge­o­graph­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment, fore­casted weather con­di­tions and to­pog­ra­phy of the lo­cal ter­rain, your seem­ingly ideal choice to pitch your tent and get some rest could be washed away due to an ex­tremely pow­er­ful flash flood. The risk from flash floods is of­ten the re­sult of poor choices made when set­ting up camp in the bush or be­cause of rash de­ci­sions made when en­coun­ter­ing ris­ing wa­ters dur­ing ex­treme rain­storms in fa­mil­iar ar­eas.

Flash floods strike hard and fast, and it’s for this very rea­son that every­one, for their own safety, needs to know why flash floods oc­cur and how to pro­tect them­selves from the on­slaught of un­stop­pable liq­uid fury.


The key el­e­ment that dis­tin­guishes a “flash” flood from a “reg­u­lar” flood is the amount of time it takes to oc­cur; typ­i­cally, within a six-hour time span. This short time frame catches many peo­ple by sur­prise and, be­fore they can prop­erly re­act, it’s too late.

Most peo­ple at­tribute the cre­ation of flash floods sim­ply to heavy, per­sis­tent rain­storms— which is true. How­ever, un­known to many, there are nu­mer­ous other ways these tor­ren­tial tsunamis can be formed.

The most com­mon cause of flash floods is when heavy pre­cip­i­ta­tion falls rapidly on ei­ther rain-sat­u­rated soil or ex­tremely dry soil that lacks a high wa­ter-ab­sorp­tion rate. Other ways flash floods oc­cur in­clude vol­canic ac­tiv­ity, where glaciers melt rapidly from the in­tense heat, and the runoff flows down the moun­tain­side and en­gulfs what­ever and who­ever is down­stream.

In ad­di­tion, hur­ri­canes and trop­i­cal storms can un­leash in­cred­i­ble amounts of rain­fall in a rel­a­tively short time­frame, cul­mi­nat­ing in a “bat­ter­ing ram” of wa­ter that can over­whelm ev­ery­thing in its path. Some ad­di­tional causes of flood­ing in­clude thaw­ing ice dams and man­made oc­cur­rences, such as dam fail­ures or bro­ken wa­ter mains.

The greater the com­bi­na­tion of con­tribut­ing fac­tors that are present at one time and lo­ca­tion, such as soil con­sis­tency, rain­fall or melt-off vol­ume, as well as the to­pog­ra­phy of the land, the greater the chances are for flash flood­ing to oc­cur.


Ex­haus­tion and tired feet can cause weary hik­ers to dis­miss log­i­cal think­ing and set up camp just about any­where. This could be a huge mis­take.

Flash flood­ing is not bound by ge­o­graph­i­cal ar­eas of the coun­try. From dry desert canyons to hilly wood­lands to snow-cov­ered moun­tains, few set­tings are free from this deadly threat. In fact, more peo­ple die each year from flash flood­ing than from Mother Na­ture’s other deadly forces, in­clud­ing tor­na­does, light­ning strikes and hur­ri­canes.

When set­ting up camp, there are warn­ing signs to look for that can allow you to sleep com­fort­ably and not find your­self bob­bing down a river that wasn’t there when you went to sleep.

First, avoid gul­lies or bot­tle­neck ar­eas of a canyon. Fast-fall­ing rain can quickly be di­verted into a small fun­nel-like open­ing be­tween the rock walls and cre­ate a highly pres­sur­ized stream of wa­ter, mov­ing so fast that es­cape is vir­tu­ally nonex­is­tent.

Sec­ond, ex­am­ine the ground and soil con­sis­tency. Is the earth clay like or sat­u­rated dirt? Clay doesn’t of­fer great wa­ter drainage so, dur­ing a harsh rain­storm, the wa­ter flows over the ground in­stead of be­ing ab­sorbed into it. Also, ex­am­ine your cho­sen camp­site. Do you no­tice rip­ples of dirt or sand nearby? This would in­di­cate that nearby wa­ter sources, whether from ad­ja­cent lakes or rivers or be­ing dropped down­ward by the slope of the land­scape, reg­u­larly find their way to your very spot and even­tu­ally re­cede, re­veal­ing the no­tice­able pat­terns on the ground.

Third, if you’re near a body of wa­ter or even a dry stream, creek or river bed, check the shore­line for signs of high-wa­ter marks. It’s al­ways pos­si­ble for the flow to eclipse pre­vi­ous heights, but, at the very least, never set up camp be­low the high marks you can find.


Once a flash flood oc­curs, your chance of liv­ing through it de­pends on your will­ing­ness and abil­ity to fol­low some ba­sic logic and rules:

• If you are in your car when flood wa­ters rise abruptly, get out and aban­don your ve­hi­cle as soon as pos­si­ble. No car, no mat­ter its value, is worth risk­ing your life to save. It can lit­er­ally be­come your death trap.

• Ve­hi­cles weigh­ing 1 to 2 tons can eas­ily float away in just 1 or 2 feet of wa­ter. It’s hard to be­lieve, but this sit­u­a­tion can re­sult in many deaths. Peo­ple tend to imag­ine that their ve­hi­cles, as large as they might be, can fight Mother Na­ture.

• If you be­come trapped in your ve­hi­cle, and the wa­ter level rises to the doors, the ex­te­rior pres­sure could be too great for you to open them. If this oc­curs, roll down or shat­ter a win­dow (hope­fully, you carry a win­dow-punch tool) and es­cape through it. The worst-case sce­nario would be that you, within your ve­hi­cle, be­come to­tally sub­merged un­der­wa­ter. If this oc­curs, don’t panic (yes, this is eas­ier said than done, but you must try). Wait for the pres­sure to equal­ize be­tween the in­side and out­side of the car. Then, open the doors and swim to­ward the ris­ing bub­bles, if vis­i­ble.


• If you’re not in a ve­hi­cle, point your feet down­stream and try to move across any struc­tures or large pieces of de­bris you en­counter. Be­ing in the wa­ter only in­creases your chances of in­cur­ring in­juries from de­bris slam­ming into you—or from un­seen dan­gers be­low the wa­ter, such as pot­holes, elec­tri­cal cables or sud­den drops. You could find your­self com­pletely sub­merged, se­verely hurt or elec­tro­cuted.

Your fo­cus should be to get to higher ground and stay there un­til help ar­rives. By no means should you leave the safety of dry land or a se­cure man­made struc­ture to try to swim for help or to help oth­ers stuck in the flow. You wouldn’t have the strength to keep your­self safe—let alone try­ing to se­cure an­other per­son.



Just be­cause the wa­ter in­ten­sity has let up—or, in some cases, the area nearby might be re­ced­ing—it doesn’t mean your area is safe again. There are many pre­cau­tions that must be taken dur­ing the af­ter­math of a flash flood.

• First and fore­most, don’t go out on a sight­see­ing tour. Yes, many peo­ple ven­ture through­out their neigh­bor­hood af­ter a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter to see the scope and power of Mother Na­ture, but it is highly ad­vis­able that you do not. Hid­den dan­gers could be lurk­ing any­where, away from your sight or your abil­ity to even no­tice any­thing out of the or­di­nary. But they’re there.

• Roads could be washed out. Dips or un­even ground un­der the sur­face of the wa­ter are per­fect ways for you to sprain, twist or even break your an­kle or leg.

• Downed power lines could elec­trify the wa­ter as you step through the murky rem­nants of na­ture’s fury. Deadly electric shock or even mild elec­tro­cu­tion are very real pos­si­bil­i­ties.


Wa­ter is the life source for all liv­ing things. Yet, even as it sus­tains life, it can also take it away.

The var­i­ous forms wa­ter takes are nu­mer­ous, and flash flood­ing is just one. But it is truly a pow­er­ful one. As with all nat­u­ral and even man­made dis­as­ters, the key to get­ting through them with min­i­mal dam­age, loss or per­sonal in­jury is to pre­pare as much as pos­si­ble be­fore such an oc­cur­rence takes place. Stock the proper sup­plies, cre­ate an evac­u­a­tion route, and save per­sonal pa­per­work on flash drives and cloud-based stor­age op­tions.

The more you think about a dis­as­ter to­day, the less you need to worry when Mother Na­ture sends one your way to­mor­row.


Flash floods can start in an in­stant and wash away dirt roads and paths within min­utes.

The best es­cape from dan­ger­ous flood­wa­ter is to get to higher ground as quickly as pos­si­ble. A rooftop is one op­tion. (Photo: Big­stock)

Be­low: Pow­er­lines un­der­neath the wa­ter af­ter a flood can end your life quickly. Avoid walk­ing through un­clear stag­nant wa­ter, and get to higher ground.

• Fur­ther­more, when en­ter­ing build­ings that have been af­fected by flood wa­ter, you must be very care­ful when judg­ing the sta­bil­ity of the struc­ture and the over­all dam­age that it has in­curred. Re­mem­ber, it isn’t only the dam­age sus­tained by the wa­ter, it­self, but also the force with which it struck stand­ing struc­tures. The power of the flood could have eas­ily rammed de­bris into the sup­port­ing walls and weak­ened the build­ing over­all.

• Rup­tured gas lines and leak­ing flammable liq­uids might be present in your home or any build­ing that you might en­ter. There­fore, it is best for you to avoid re­turn­ing to your home un­til the proper au­thor­i­ties in­spect it and de­clare it safe for you or oth­ers to do so.

• As strange as it might sound: If the flood­ing was ex­treme, lo­cal an­i­mal life might have mi­grated with the high-level wa­ter and could pose a threat to you or your fam­ily. De­pend­ing upon where you live, ven­omous snakes, al­li­ga­tors or other pos­si­bly dan­ger­ous an­i­mal life could be­come your neigh­bors im­me­di­ately af­ter a flood rolls through.

• Fi­nally, never take the chance of drink­ing any wa­ter with­out boil­ing it first. The in­ter­min­gling of sewage and other con­tam­i­nants with nor­mally drinkable wa­ter must be avoided at all costs. Nu­mer­ous pathogens and for­eign ma­te­ri­als will get you sick; and be­ing in the hos­pi­tal dur­ing the af­ter­math of an in­tense flood is not a place you want to be.

Heavy rains can quickly in­crease nor­mally calm or slow-run­ning brooks or streams to fright­ful lev­els. Never try cross­ing vi­o­lently mov­ing wa­ter; you won’t get far be­fore you get swept away.

Left: Even in just a few feet of wa­ter, your ve­hi­cle can float away with the cur­rent. Aban­don your ve­hi­cle and try to reach higher ground quickly.

Right: Cars can be­come death­traps dur­ing flash flood­ing. Leave your ve­hi­cle as soon as pos­si­ble … be­fore it be­comes too late. (Photo: Big­stock)

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