Staying Safe in Floods

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We’re going to state the obvious here; it’s been raining a lot lately, hasn’t it? Some areas of the country have seen torrential rain every single day for the past month and according to Met Office statistics, rainfall for many areas of the country over October was far higher than average. For some of us, continuous rain just means the inconvenience of getting a bit soggy whenever we venture outside. For others though, it brings severe disruption and the sheer misery caused by flooding. The catastrophic and tragic events of recent days only go to emphasise the importance of being flood aware.

What causes flooding?

In the UK, while all flooding is indeed caused by an excess of water, there are different types, or causes; fluvial, coastal, groundwater and flash flooding. Fluvial is where rivers, lakes and other inland water bodies become so full that they overflow or breach their banks. Coastal, also known as tidal flooding, is fairly self-explanatory and is flooding caused by surges in the sea and tidal rivers. Groundwater flooding is when the ground is already so saturated with water that the water rises out of the ground and collects on the surface along with any that’s falling down. Flash flooding, sometimes called pluvial flooding, is when an extreme period of rainfall overwhelms drainage systems and the ground’s ability to absorb the water, leading to the excessive and often sudden collection of water on the surface.   

The lasting effect of floods

But whatever the cause of flooding may be, anyone who has experienced it can tell you it is devastating. Rapidly rising water puts lives at risk and is able to destroy homes and possessions in a very short space of time. And that’s just the beginning; once the waters have receded again, the aftermath can take months or even years to clean up, repair and rectify. 

We can’t stop floods happening, it is a natural phenomenon, which scientific evidence suggests will become a more regular and widespread occurrence. So your best defence, as always, is to be prepared and know what to do – before it happens to you. 

Advance Preparations for Floods:

  • Always pay attention to localised weather forecasts, especially to warnings of extreme weather, and keep checking back for updates. 
  • Many people in areas known to be at flood risk will place sandbags around their property to try and prevent flood damage. Your local authority should be able to provide you with further information on where to get them and how to use them. You can also obtain them from DIY stores and builders merchants, however by the time a flood warning is actually in place, they will probably be sold out, so consider buying and storing them well in advance.  
  • Share any flood warnings with your neighbours. Ask your neighbours if they have action plans for if floods occur, especially if they are vulnerable, such as the elderly, disabled and those with very young children. 
  • Make sure you have an appropriate level of insurance cover. 
  • Take photos of the rooms inside your home as they normally appear, as this could help with insurance claims.

Immediate Preparations for Floods:

Remember that if floodwater looks likely to reach your home, then all of your basic utilities such as electric, gas and water will not be safe to use. You can be electrocuted from live electricity coming into contact with water. The water supply will be breached and not safe to drink. 

  • Put people first, not possessions. Make sure you and your loved ones are safe before you worry about valuables. 
  • Follow any evacuation procedures and advice given by your local authority or the police. 
  • Put flood protection equipment, such as sandbags, in place. 
  • Move family members and pets upstairs or to a high place with an escape route.
  • Collect essential items such as a torch, mobile phone, medication, food that does not require cooking, warm blankets, spare clothes and waterproofs for every household member. As you won’t be able to charge a mobile, a battery operated radio may be useful to stay informed. 
  • Fill as many pots and pans as you can with clean drinking water and keep it with your other essentials. 
  • Shut all doors and windows tight. This may reduce the volume of water able to enter.
  • Put sandbags, heavy blankets or bricks wrapped in towels inside sinks, toilet bowls and other plugholes to try and prevent a backflow of sewage.
  • Before the floods and only if safe to do so, shut off the main supplies of electric, gas and water to your home.
  • Only when the above is done, you have time and it is safe to do so, should you think about moving and saving valuables and treasured possessions. 

What to do during floods:

  • If you are at home, be prepared to evacuate at any time and follow any instructions given by the authorities or rescue services.  
  • Call 999 if you are in a situation where your life is in immediate danger. However, during such times, the emergency services are going to be fully stretched and possibly unable to reach you quickly due to the conditions. 
  • Never attempt to drive through floodwaters. From behind the steering wheel, it is not possible to gauge how deep or how fast the water is, or whether there are any submerged hazards. You will most likely wreck your car and your life is at risk if the vehicle gets swept along or turned over with you in it. 
  • Don’t try to walk or swim through floodwaters either, even a small amount can unbalance you or drag you along and there may be hazards underneath that could entangle you. The water will be cold, dirty and probably contaminated with sewage. 
  • Avoid contact with floodwater and do not allow children to play in or near flood water either for the same reasons listed above. 
  • In the event of coastal flooding, do not walk or drive along sea fronts or sea defences. Waves are unpredictable and extremely forceful, they have enough power to suddenly reach several metres inland, easily washing a car or people out to sea in seconds.  
  • Do not walk or drive along riverbanks or over bridges when rivers are in flood. 

What to do immediately after a flood:

When the floodwaters recede, it does not mean that everything goes back to normal, particularly if your home has suffered damage. There are still health hazards to be aware of and you might not be able to live in your home until it has been dried out and repaired, which can take many months. 

  • Boil tap water, use bottled water or water from bowsers provided by the local authorities until the water system is officially declared safe to drink again.
  • Dispose of all food that may have come into contact with flood water. 
  • Contact your insurance companies. If your home has been left uninhabitable, either your insurance company (depending on the level of cover) or the local authority should be able to help you find emergency temporary accommodation. 
  • Start removing damaged items from the home if it is safe to do so. Wear protective clothing, gloves and masks because flood waters are likely to have been contaminated by sewage or chemicals.
  • If furniture, fixings and possessions have been contaminated by sewage or chemicals, then it will be classed as hazardous waste. Contact your local authority for guidance on how to dispose of it. 

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