Surviving The Flood

Surviving The Flood

If you’ve missed it on the news (which is entirely possible – I was in New York for the first stages of the event and it barely made the news) Colorado has been deluged with flooding. All along the front range every river or creek has been surging and breaking it’s banks. The St. Vrain and the Big Thompson both actually re-routed themselves in places. In Longmont, where I live, St. Vrain Creek normally runs at about 50 cubic feet per minute. During the flood the flow rate was reading ‘error’ because the meters didn’t go over 6,000 CFPS. Left Hand Creek normally runs at about 40 CFPS and hit 4,500. These two creeks merge in South Longmont. Just east of town Boulder Creek (normal flow is 60 CFPS, running more than 7,000 during the peak) merges with the St. Vrain and a week later Highway 119 – the main artery into Longmont from the east – is still closed. They’re calling it a ‘500 year flood’ which means that there’s a 1 in 500 chance in any given year that such an event will occur.

The thing that struck me about this is how unprepared people were. From 1600 miles away I was coordinating with my wife. She had enough water to last a couple of weeks in event the water system went down (it didn’t) and enough food to last the same amount of time. She was ready to put the UPS device on the sump pump in event we had groundwater seeping into the sump pit (and we have a sump pump in place with an alarm on it if it gets activated). She got the irreplaceable items pulled together and ready to load in the car in the event she needed to evacuate. And we live on reasonably high ground about a mile and a half from the floodwaters!

Yet on the news they’re interviewing people who live in the trailer park next to St. Vrain Creek – in the flood plain, after non-stop rain from Monday through the first evacuations Thursday morning – and in interview after interview all you hear is “We had no warning this was coming” and “It happened so fast we didn’t have time to gather our things.” People said they were so caught off guard that they left their pets behind.

Rather than bemoan the state of preparedness of the general populace, because I know there are people WAY more prepared than my wife and I (and I feel we’re pretty well prepared), I want to focus on a few key things anyone can do to be more prepped for an event like this one.

  1. Make a list of the things you feel are irreplaceable and, if necessary, their location (attic, basement closet, etc). Then if you get the orders to evacuate you can quickly get the most important things. I sincerely hope that the priority is children/family members, pets, and then physical ‘stuff’ – but as we are seeing now, that’s not always the case.
  2. PAY ATTENTION to your surroundings. I have the luxury of a smart phone that delivers proactive weather alerts to me no matter where I am (this is how I knew to contact my wife even though I was out of town for the two days preceding the flood). Not everyone has the financial ability (or is willing to spend the money) for a smart phone. However, a weather band radio doesn’t cost much.
  3. Have enough water and food on hand to last 72 hours. While some may be quick to say this isn’t nearly enough (and this is a case where more is better), it should get you through most situations, even those involving the need for rescue. However, as we found out in our town, when people are displaced (we had 7,000 homes evacuated, so figure 21,000+ people) the stores quickly get overrun with people seeking supplies. Once they start hitting the stores the people who AREN’T being evacuated start to panic; “What if we get cut off and trucks can’t make it to the stores? There’ll be nothing left!” – and then the panic buying sets in. That’s exactly what happened here as road after road was closed because it was under water or washed out. At one point we only had one way into town. Checkout lines at the supermarket were hundreds of feet long. In short – if you don’t already have it when the event starts, you may not be able to get it. Better to be prepared.
    • That goes double for ammunition. Stores are currently in a perpetual depleted state and if you’re cutoff from supply, you can’t order any on-line. You may have friends or family who can help with food, water and shelter, but with ammo – what you have is what you’ve got.
  4. Have tags for your pets and make them a priority in your evacuation plan. We often leave the collar off of our dog because it’s noisy and he’s seldom out side unsupervised. But when this event started, his collar went on him so even if he and my wife were separated he’d be identifiable. Our local Humane Society is full of pets who have either been rescued from abandoned homes or they were found wandering the streets with no tags.
  5. Find out the history of your area. There are cases being reported where people never thought they could be flooded because they can’t see the river from their house and a flood like this, according to their neighbors, has never happened in recent memory. In our town’s case, it has been 50+ years since we had a significant event like this. How many people live in one place for that long and can tell you the history of your neighborhood? To learn more, you can go to FEMA.org, freeflood.net or contact an insurance agent to find out if your property is located in a flood plain. It should be noted that I put in the address of a house in Longmont and freeflood.net lists it as being in the 500+ year flood plain – and it’s currently under water. So clearly some common sense has to come into play as well. The address I used is literally across the street from Left Hand Creek. If you can see running water from your front yard, you’re probably at risk and should do some prepping.
  6. Lastly, if you’re told to get out, do it. Emergency crews were having to rescue people who chose to ignore warnings and ended up needing help. Corollary to this; once you’re out, stay out until the area is cleared. Again, we had emergency crews having to rescue people who went back in to the evacuated areas to get more of their stuff. We ended up having National Guardsmen baby sitting the barricades to keep people out rather than performing more important duties.

There’s no way you can have a contingency for every possible situation; however, simple steps like making an evacuation plan can be vital to making a disaster something that you simply endure rather than something you barely survive. If you haven’t given this aspect of your prepping much thought, it would be good to spend a few minutes on it.

Until next time, better dead than zed!

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