How to Stay Safe Before, During, and After a Flood

Remember: The American Red Cross is here to help!  If you need immediate help during or after a disaster, all 1-800-redcross, text getemergency to 90999, or download the Red Cross Emergency App.

As I was going home in Columbus recently, the danger of driving through floodwaters became real to me. Although the water from heavy rains wasn’t deep, I could feel the force of its pull. I was nervous, because I knew that it doesn’t take much water to stall out your engine and even sweep you and your vehicle away.

I looked carefully before entering underpasses to make sure there was no standing water. I stayed on the highest part of the road and avoided driving near storm drains. Although we weren’t experiencing a flood, it was raining hard, and I wasn’t going to take any chances.

That’s a key to flood safety: Don’t take chances! Stay out of low-lying areas such as highway dips, bridges, and low spots; avoid storm drains. If you’re caught on a flooded road with rising water, get out of the car quickly and move to higher ground. Stay away from underpasses, and never drive around a barricade.

There’s good reason for this advice: Less than six inches of water can sweep a person away, and less than two feet of water can do the same to a vehicle. Floodwater may also be contaminated with sewage, yet another reason not to wade through it.

You can also take steps before a flood to reduce the risks to you and your loved ones. First, know the danger level. A “watch” means a flood or flash flood is possible. A “warning” means flooding is already happening or will happen soon, and you need to be on higher ground right away! Evacuate if directed; trying to “wait it out” can put you and potential rescuers at risk.

You can keep track of the weather with a battery-operated or hand-crank radio A NOAA radio is ideal. Your emergency kit should always be stocked and your gas tank full. If you have outdoor furniture, bring it inside. And don’t forget to make a plan for your pets!

Make and practice an evacuation plan so you and everyone in your home can get out quickly. Keep important documents and other valuables in a safe -deposit box. Be aware that homeowners’ insurance doesn’t cover floods; if you want to be covered, you’ll have to buy flood insurance.

If you own a house, you can also take steps to protect that investment. You can raise your furnace, water heater, and electric panel to higher floors or the attic. Install check valves in plumbing to prevent floodwater from backing up into the drains of your home. Seal the basement walls with a waterproofing compound. If flooding is imminent and you have a propane tank, turn it off to reduce the risk of fire.

If your home is flooded and you evacuate, take steps to stay safe when you return. Look for loose power lines, broken or damaged gas lines, foundation cracks, missing support beams, or other damage. If you smell gas or hear a hissing noise, get far away from the property immediately. Call the fire department after you’re in a safe place.

When it’s safe to begin cleaning up, throw away anything that has been touched by floodwaters and can’t be disinfected, and never eat or drink anything floodwaters might have reached. If power is out, use a flashlight. Don’t use any open flames, including candles.

You can take steps before, during, and after a flood to prevent or reduce the impact it has on you and your loved ones. You can also help those who’ve been affected by flooding. Check out the opportunities to at Volunteer With the Red Cross. You can also help with a financial donation.


Some of the information provided here comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service.

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