Coastal or Inland: Where it Rains – It Can Flood

By John Zarrella – Former CNN Correspondent

The rain had been coming down for days.  By the early morning hours of November 6, 1977, an earthen dam near the North Georgia town of Toccoa couldn’t take it any longer and ruptured. The people at a tiny Bible College downstream were mostly asleep when the flood waters hit.  Thirty-nine perished. Many were children.

At the time, I was working for a local Atlanta television station.  I had only been in the business a couple of years.  Now, nearly forty years later, Toccoa remains the deadliest flood event I was ever involved in covering.

Unless you hatoccoa03d relatives there or were a journalist, Toccoa is one of those largely forgotten moments in history.   But it is, and should be, a tragic reminder of how quickly inland flooding can change or even take your life.

At Toccoa the people never had a chance.  But in most flooding events, people who die didn’t have to. That’s right, they didn’t have to! How many times have you heard this:  “Some of these people on the highway trying to drive through this stuff—they’re very stupid.” That was a quote to CNN from a Missouri flood victim this past December.

If you look at federal statistics, more than half of all flood related deaths come when a car is driven into water.  Bill Read is a former Director of the National Hurricane Center.  Even in hurricanes, inland flooding is the number one killer.  Read told me, “they don’t think it’s as bad as it really is and they drive into it and it’s too late when they finally figure out its going to float their car.”

People who survive always, Read says, have the same refrain, “The people that are rescued or made it out alive they almost invariable say ‘I didn’t think it was going to be that bad.’”

It’s not as if the “stay out of the water” messaging isn’t out there.  The “Turn Around Don’t Drown” program by the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes and the National Weather Service is exactly what it says.  Don’t drive into that water!   The yellow signs are in high risk, low lying areas around the country.  Local meteorologists always get out that message to their audience whenever there’s a flood threat.

Over the course of forty years, Read has seen every kind of flooding imaginable – from hurricanes, flash floods, to riverine.  “The most phenomenal thing to me was just the incredible rate of rainfall. We’ve had events where the hourly rainfall rates approach 4 to 6 inches in an hour. Almost nobody lives in an area that can be designed to handle the runoff from that kind of rain. So it almost invariably leads to rather severe flooding.”

Read’s takeaway from all he’s witnessed, we must be aware of our risk.  And he adds, that risk is not is not isolated to one part of the country or another.  “When you come right down to it there’s no place in the U.S. that’s not vulnerable to inland flooding.”

Just last year major flooding events occurred in Texas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Ohio, South Carolina, Florida.  If you know you are at risk, there are measures you can take to protect your home and property. The most import of which is to get a flood insurance policy.  Consider elevating your air conditioning unit, water heater, and furnace. For more tips and information, go to the FLASH website.

Sometimes there’s just no rhyme or reason. Bad weather “stuff” just happens. It’s fickle, unpredictable, weird, and strange. You can attach all sorts of adjectives to it.

Back in 2008, Tropical Storm Fay set a record-making four landfalls in Florida.  Unpredictable, weird, fickle, strange…you pick the adjective.  As it meandered across the state, it just kept dumping water. In some places more than twenty inches fell.  North of Melbourne the rain gauges swelled to a record twenty-seven inches.

We started chasing Fay on August 17 for CNN in Key West and Key Largo.  The next three days, reporting from Fort Pierce, Port St. Lucie and Melbourne required high water boots. At a place called Lamplighter Village, Florida Wildlife officers used swamp buggies to go in and rescue folks. As always, some wouldn’t leave. All the wildlife officials could say, “If you decide to get out, give us a call.”

In Port St. Lucie, a volunteer rescuer got people out in an airboat, again, those who would leave. His warning to the others, “Just try not to wait too late. It’s easier in the daylight than it is at night.  Everything bad happens at night.”

Tropical Storm Fay is a poster child for all those adjectives, and how it can happen anywhere.  And the message is clear, bad weather “stuff” happens.  Know your risk.

17 Flood Safety and Cleanup Tips from FLASH

1: Avoid flooded areas or those with rapid water flow. Do not attempt to cross a flowing stream. It takes only six inches of fast flowing water to sweep you off your feet.

2: Don’t allow children to play near high water, storm drains or ditches. Hidden dangers could lie beneath the water.

3: Flooded roads could have significant damage hidden by floodwaters. Remember, “Turn Around, Don’t Drown!”  Never drive through floodwaters or on flooded roads. Water only two feet deep can float away most automobiles.

4: Do not camp or park your vehicle along streams and washes, particularly when threatening conditions exist.

5: Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to see flooded roads.

After the Flood: Structural Considerations

6: Outside –

  • Check for building stability before entry – sticking doors at the top may indicate a ceiling at risk of collapse.
  • Check foundation for any loose or missing blocks, bricks, stones or mortar.

7: Inside

  • Assess stability of plaster and drywall – any bulging or swelling ceilings indicate damage that should be removed. Press upward on drywall ceilings. If nail heads appear, drywall will need to be re-nailed but can be saved.
  • To prevent warping of wooden doors, remove, and disinfect all knobs and hardware, and lay flat and allow to air dry completely.
  • Remove wet drywall and insulation well above the high water mark.

After the Flood: Insurance Tips  

8Take extensive photos and video for insurance claims. Only flood insurance typically covers damage from floods.

9: Remove damaged items from the home. If you need evidence of damage, save swatches (carpet, curtains, etc.) for your insurance adjuster

After the Flood: Mold & General Clean Up

10: Wash and disinfect all surfaces, including cupboard interiors with a solution of 1/2 cup bleach to two gallons of water. Remove sliding doors and windows before cleaning and disinfect the sliders and the tracks.

11: Clean and disinfect concrete surfaces using a mixture of TSP (trisodium phosphate) and water. Mix according to manufacturer’s directions and apply to entire surface.

12: Liquid cleaners can remove mud, silt, and greasy deposits. Liquid detergents work on washable textiles. Use diluted bleach if item is safe for bleach.

13: The National Archives has information on how to clean up your family treasures. Although it may be difficult to throw certain items away, especially those with sentimental value, experts recommend that if you can’t clean it, you should dispose of it, especially if it has come into contact with water that may contain sewage

After the Flood: Home air quality considerations and mold prevention

14: Clean and disinfect heating, air conditioning, and ventilation ducts before use to avoid spread of airborne germs and mold spores.

15: Use fans and allow in sunlight to dry out interior spaces.

16: To avoid growth of microorganisms, household items should be dried completely before they are brought back in the house. Although the drying process can take a long time, homeowners should be patient because it is necessary to keep a home’s air quality healthy. Some household items may take longer than others to dry, such as upholstered furniture and carpets.

17: Remove wallpaper and coverings that came into contact with floodwaters. Don’t repaint or repair until drying is complete and humidity levels in the home have dropped.

For information visit  FLASH or FEMA.

Hurricane Katrina Through the Lens of Former CNN Correspondent John Zarrella

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By John Zarrella

As Hurricane Katrina sideswiped New Orleans, windows blew out in the buildings next to our hotel on Common Street. Sheets of glass fell and shattered on the street.  Reams of paper flew out from the now breached office windows. It was like watching one of those old New York City ticker-tape parades.

As a reporter it was always frustrating covering hurricanes in the moment. Your field of vision is narrow. You can only report on what is happening around you. It is after the storm has passed when you get a better sense of the larger picture.

Katrina was different. In the late morning when the wind subsided, we drove out to get a better perspective of the damage. You know how some things always stick with you?  For me, on that day it was the drive along Elysian Fields Avenue. As we headed towards Lake Pontchartrain I kept thinking, “Why is there so much water?  It hadn’t rained that much during the storm.” At least, I didn’t think it had.

As we drove closer to the lake, the water kept getting higher. We stopped. An elderly man was sitting on his porch. With the water above our knees, my camera crew and I waded over to him. I asked, “Have you ever seen the water this high before?” “Not since Hurricane Betsy,” he said. Perhaps we were standing, and didn’t know it, in the first of the flood waters. To this day I still wonder.

That night, people poured out of the hotels along Canal Street. Many were locals who rather than stay in their homes during the storm got rooms in the French Quarter. They were smiling, laughing, and raising glasses. It was festive. New Orleans had dodged the bullet again they thought.

The next morning, I woke up, looked out my hotel room window and saw water and cars parked along the sidewalk bobbing in it. We all know what happened after that.

Recently, I went back to the Gulf Coast to work on a “Ten Years Later” story. I don’t care to call it an anniversary. For me, anniversaries should be reserved for happy occasions.

But, there are a couple of stories from my trip that really highlighted the human strength to, as William Faulkner wrote, “endure and prevail.”

After Katrina, Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi was called part of the forgotten coast. So much of the media attention went to New Orleans that places like Bay Saint Louis, Biloxi and Gulfport fell out of the spotlight rather quickly even though they took Katrina’s direct hit.

That was just fine Mayor Les Fillingame told me. “We didn’t want to let anybody see us bleeding.  We didn’t want to let anybody see us wounded. We, by and large, are to the person very proud.”

More than twenty feet of water covered Bay Saint Louis. There were, the Mayor told me only fifty homes out of forty-five hundred that were not completely destroyed. Today, the city is back. While I was there, there was street festival along the rebuilt waterfront. A truck drove around delivering bags of ice to keep drinks cold. A decade ago, you need ice here just to survive.

The wounds Katrina left behind have healed. There are of course still scars, an overgrown slab of concrete where a house once stood. But driving through the city you would never know what happened here a decade ago. The mayor says, this rebirth would never have been possible without the Federal Government, FEMA, and private donations that allowed Bay Saint Louis to build back better, stronger, and more resilient.  If there is a next time, Fillingame says they are far better prepared.

Last year, the city’s new marina opened. It was, Mayor Fillingame says, the “final piece” to the resurrection of Bay St. Louis. “We had a big grand opening and basically right then we kind of declared an end to the war. We declared an end to the war of Katrina and it had been fought in literally thousands of battles. Every individual home had their own battles. It was a battleground of its own. The city was a battleground.”

And now, the mayor told me, Katrina is in their rear view mirror. “Most people in Bay Saint Louis want it there and most people don’t like telling the story of Katrina. It was a bad chapter.”

Jesse Shaffer lived through not one but two bad chapters. Shaffer and his family lived outside New Orleans. When Katrina hit, ten feet of water flooded their neighborhood.  He and his neighbors rebuilt. “You live here and you don’t want to move away. You lose all your friends,” Shaffer said.

And not far from them, almost in their shadow, a massive concrete and steel flood wall was constructed to keep the water out in case it happened again.

Problem was, the Shaffer’s neighborhood was just outside the wall. And seven years to the day after Katrina, it did happen again. Hurricane Isaac. The old clock on the mantle stopped at five minutes to three in the morning when the water rose above it. This time, it wasn’t ten feet of water. It was fourteen feet. But unlike Katrina, the people here didn’t evacuate for Isaac. “It wouldn’t be, couldn’t be as bad,” they thought.

That night and part of the next day, Jesse Shaffer and his son saved lives. “A friend of mine had a boat on the other side of the wall and we launched it and we just started trying to get as many people out as we could.” “So how many people did you rescue?” I asked. “Between me and my son one hundred and twenty people. Two guys were floating on a spare tire.”

The Shaffer’s don’t live here anymore. Virtually no one else does either. Of the seventy-five or so homes in the neighborhood Shaffer says only one is being lived in.

What you see now along the Gulf Coast is a testament to the human spirit, a testament to our ability to endure and prevail. Communities were rebuilt. Lives were saved. A decade after the Katrina nightmare, the page has turned. But, make no mistake, the book is not yet closed. Everyone will tell you there is still much work to be done. Some of the hardest hit areas of New Orleans are far from healed, but there is progress. And for the people of Mississippi and Louisiana, they are starting to believe the storm has finally passed.

The Only Thing Worse Than No Tornado Safe Room is an Improperly Installed Tornado Safe Room

Jay Hamburg, FLASH Consumer Writer

The deadly outbreak of tornadoes in Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, and across the central United States serves as a stark reminder of the lifesaving value that safe rooms can provide. At the same time, some tragic cases remind us that safe rooms can only protect you and your loved ones if they are properly installed.

Reports that heavy rainfalls caused some underground tornado safe rooms to pop up out of the ground serve as warnings that even a heavy, sturdy, underground tornado safe room can be dislodged by unexpected water flow during a tornado when installed the wrong way.

And, regardless of installation quality, you should never enter an underground tornado safe room if flooding is expected as water flow could cover air vents, or drowning could occur.

“If you have an underground tornado safe room, proper stabilizing and anchoring is very straightforward,” said FLASH SVP Tim Smail. “We recommend using a National Storm Shelter Association Installer Member or ensure your installer follows the ICC/NSSA-500 standard or FEMA P-361 guidelines.”

There are also many affordable options for prefabricated and site-built tornado safe rooms. Prefabricated safe rooms are those that are assembled off-site and transported to the site where they will be installed. A site-built safe room is assembled and installed on-site. Regardless of which type of safe room you choose, be sure to discuss the following with your safe room installation contractor:

  1. Is your home located in a floodplain? If so, keep in mind FEMA P-361 does not allow safe rooms to be installed in high-risk flood hazard areas.
  2. Does your property have the proper access for equipment needed for installation? Installation could involve a large crane or flatbed truck.
  3. Are there easements on your property that would limit where a safe room could be installed?
  4. Have you checked with your neighborhood association to see what design or structural guidelines must be followed? Many associations have rules regarding outdoor structures and their placement.

Most types of tornado safe rooms can be installed and completed in a day, with the average cost for an 8-by-8 foot room ranging from $8,000 to $9,500. Each offers different advantages, but when built and installed properly, all provide the best available life safety and property protection against tornadoes. And it is essential that we point out the need to use a tested door.

The myth that there is nothing you can do to protect against a tornado is false. We want consumers to know that they can survive if they choose smart. Our new video series, Which Tornado Safe Room is Right for You, will help them get started.

9 Ways to Prepare for a Hurricane

Leslie Chapman-Henderson is the President and CEO of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH), a non-profit organization that is dedicated to promoting protection of lives and property during natural and man-made disasters.

She says, “The more you can prepare prior to a hurricane, the greater your chances are to safely shelter and recover. Taking steps to strengthen your home and preparing your family to evacuate if you live in an evacuation zone will help reduce risk of injury to you and your family, and damage to your home.”

Here are 9 ways to prepare for a hurricane: 

1. Protect doors and windows. Use “approved hurricane shutters or board up with properly installed emergency plywood shutters,” says Chapman-Henderson.

2. Stock up on sandbags in flood zonesSandbags can be useful, says Chapman-Henderson, to reduce water damage to homes and businesses. You can get sandbags in larger quantities for your home or business nationally from Sand Bags To Go.

3. Prepare for different scenarios. You might remain in your home after a disaster or evacuate to a safer location. “Families should pay close attention to and heed evacuation orders from local officials to determine if they can safely stay in their homes or need to go to a safer location,” Chapman-Henderson said. You can better prepare for either scenario by assembling a disaster supply kit that includes three to seven days worth of food and water per family member, cash as ATMs may not be open for many days, a manual can opener, extra required medication, a battery powered radio, First Aid kit, supplies for any pets and flashlights with extra batteries. Replace the water and food supplies every six-months.

4. Protect important documents. Store important family documents, including medical records, insurance papers, social security cards, deeds or mortgages, birth certificates and marriage certificates in a fire and water proof container, says Chapman-Henderson. She also suggests families can scan and keep electronic copies of important documents on a USB drive or as photos on a smartphone.

5. Know your zone. Dennis Feltgen is the Public Affairs Officer and a Meteorologist with NOAA’s National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida. He says there are common mistakes to avoid when a hurricane warning is issued including “not knowing if you are located in an evacuation zone and not having a plan on where to go if you are in an evacuation zone.”

6. Get supplies before the hurricane hits. Don’t make the mistake says Feltgen, of searching for the supplies you’ll need once an evacuation order is given, otherwise “you must stand in long lines to get supplies that were readily available weeks ago—and may be gone now.”

7. Involve the whole family in the hurricane plan. Feltgen says, “The creation of a family hurricane plan should involve the entire family. Each member of the family should have a specific assignment in the creation and execution of the plan. For instance, one child could make sure there are batteries for the electronics, another would be in charge of bringing in the small outside furniture. By making it a family plan, the anxiety level is reduced.” Be sure to check FEMA’s website.

8. Don’t forget about pets. Feltgen says plan ahead and have several options for where not only you will go, but also your pets.

9. Practice caution after the hurricane is over. Remember, says Leslie Chapman-Henderson, that danger is still present even after the hurricane is over. She says avoid driving as roads may be blocked and watch for downed power lines. If your home has sustained damage, consider having it inspected by a professional before returning to it including checking that gas lines are not leaking, plumbing is working properly and there are no hazards from damaged trees or unwanted “guests” including rodents, snakes and insects that were blown or washed in by the storm.

Written by Kathleen Miller (source)

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