Every region in U.S.
Floods are the number one natural disaster in the United States. And even if you don’t live near a coast or river, you may be at risk for flooding. Floods occur in every region of the United States. The northeast can be affected by remnants of tropical disturbances in the summer, but winter flooding and the threat of rapid spring melts can also cause floods. The Midwest has suffered major river flooding in the past, such as the catastrophic floods of 2008. The west coast’s intense flooding season typically spans November through March and results in millions of dollars in damage for residents each year. Many consumers think that flooding related to hurricanes are limited to coastal areas. However, some of the most damaging flooding can happen well inland and days after a storm makes its initial landfall. Although many floods are caused by huge storms, floods can result from small, localized events, such as a typical afternoon thunderstorm.
Excess of water
A flood, in simplest of terms, is an excess of water on land that is normally dry. In the United States, floods are the most common severe weather emergency. They can roll boulders, tear out trees and destroy buildings and bridges. A flash flood is a rapid flooding of low-lying areas in less than six hours, which is caused by intense rainfall from a thunderstorm or several thunderstorms. Flash floods can also occur from the collapse of a man-made structure or ice dam. Flash floods are the most dangerous kind of floods, because they combine the destructive power of a flood with incredible speed and unpredictability. They can also occur with little or no warning. Flash floods often bring walls of water 10 to 15 feet high. Densely populated areas are at a high risk for flash floods. The construction of buildings, highways, driveways, and parking lots increases runoff by reducing the amount of rain absorbed by the ground. This runoff increases the flash flood potential.
Don’t leave the car
When it comes to dealing with a flood, you can never be too safe. Always avoid walking or driving in flood waters. Just six inches of moving water can knock you down and a car can easily be carried away by just two feet of rushing water. If floodwaters rise around your car but the water is not moving, abandon the car and move to higher ground. Do not leave the car and enter moving water. Avoid camping or parking along streams, rivers, and creeks during heavy rainfall. These areas can flood quickly and with little warning. Bring in outdoor furniture and move important indoor items to the highest possible floor. This will help protect them from flood damage. Electrical power and natural gas or propane tanks should be shut off to avoid fire, electrocution or explosions. And it’s a good idea to build or restock an emergency preparedness kit. This kit should include a battery-powered radio, flashlight and extra batteries, first aid supplies, personal hygiene items and insect repellant.
After a flood
Gastrointestinal and respiratory problems are common after a flood due to a lack of clean water. Stomach illnesses such as vomiting and diarrhea are the greatest risk from swallowing contaminated water. Direct contact with contaminated flood water can cause skin rashes or infected cuts and wounds. Breathing problems can worsen if sewage is allowed to dry and becomes airborne. Low levels of some infectious agents are present in the environment normally and can remain slightly elevated for several months after a flood. Bacteria, viruses, and parasites can survive on outdoor hard surfaces, grasses and in soil after sewage contaminated flood waters have retreated. The amount of time they can survive depends on factors such as temperature, humidity, acidity of soil, and amount of sunlight. Sunlight and higher temperatures help kill them, and rain waters help flush them from the soil. Avoid these areas until they have dried and sewage is no longer visible.
Wary of water
If your home or community has been flooded, do not attempt to return home until authorities have said it is safe. Be sure to throw out any food that touched flood water as it may be contaminated by raw sewage or other hazardous substances. Tap or well water may not be safe to drink or use for cleaning or bathing. Be sure to follow any instructions given by state or local officials regarding the handling of water and drink bottled water if possible. Areas where small children play should also be carefully cleaned. Wash all linens and clothing in hot water, or dry clean them. For items that cannot be washed or dry cleaned, such as mattresses and upholstered furniture, air dry them in the sun and then spray them thoroughly with a disinfectant. If you have open cuts or sores, keep them as clean as possible by washing well with soap and clean, safe water to control infection. If a wound develops redness, swelling or drainage, you should seek immediate medical attention.
Trusted by thousands of listeners every week, T. Glenn Pait, M.D., began offering expert advice as the host of UAMS’ “Here’s to Your Health” program in 1996. Dr. Pait began working at UAMS in 1994 and has been practicing medicine for over 20 years.