Flood Safety

Perhaps the biggest cause of flood-related deaths and injuries is lack of public understanding of the severity and danger involved in floods and flash floods. The following tips can help protect you during flood events:

  • Many people are killed by driving or walking on roads and bridges that are covered by water. Even though the water might look only inches deep, it could be much deeper and with very strong currents. It only takes two feet of water to carry away many cars; six inches of swiftly moving water will sweep a person off his feet.
  • Most trucks, four-wheel drive, and sports utility vehicles also are susceptible to being swept away by high water. Such vehicles often give motorists a false sense of security, believing the vehicles are safe under any conditions. This belief results in deaths or emergency rescues of motorists in vehicles either stuck in or swept away by flood waters.
  • If you are approaching a flooded roadway, turn around and take an alternate route. Even though vehicles in front of you have passed through the high water, you may not be as lucky.
  • If your car stalls, abandon it immediately and climb to higher ground. Many deaths have resulted from attempts to move stalled vehicles.
  • Never let children play near creeks or storm drains when the water is rising or high. Every year, deaths or injuries occur as a result of people getting swept away, with the most frequent victims being children.
  • Flooded streams and rivers are not safe for recreational boating. Many canoeists and kayakers had to be rescued from dangerous rapids in flood-swollen streams and rivers.
  • Never set up a tent or camper on the bank of a river or stream. It is best to allow some distance between the campsite and water so if a flash flood does occur, you will have more time to move to higher ground.
  • If you live in a low-lying area or near a creek, pay close attention to water levels during heavy rain events. Water levels rise rapidly during flash floods, often surprising victims. Heavy rainfall upstream can cause a river or stream to rise quickly, even if it is not raining near you. Be prepared to move quickly to higher ground if water levels begin rising. Quickly responding to an evacuation order can save your life.
  • If advised to evacuate, do so immediately. Follow recommended evacuation routes. Shortcuts may be blocked.
  • Three types of flooding occur in North Carolina:

General River Flooding occurs after heavy rain has fallen over an extended period of time.  It usually occurs slowly enough to allow people and property to be moved to safety.  An extreme example of this is the flooding that occurred after Hurricane Floyd in September 1999.

Urban and Small Stream Flooding occurs when heavy rain falls in a short period of time.  Storm sewers and small streams cannot handle the runoff resulting in flooded underpasses, basements, and back-up sewers.

Flash Flooding occurs very quickly and is always life threatening.  It happens more frequently in hilly or mountainous areas.  Rainfall of two to four inches in a couple of hours can result in a flash flood.  Dam failures also can result in flash flooding.

  • Floods and Flash Floods can occur away from an area of heavy rain.  Especially in hilly or mountainous areas, rainfall that occurs upstream can result in flash floods downhill or downstream from where the heavier rain fell.  This happened in early January 1998 when up to 15 inches of rain fell of higher terrain in the mountains and caused major flash flooding in lower elevations.  People in Avery, Mitchell, and Yancey Counties reported a “wall of water” that ripped through several communities.

  • Flash Floods are most common in the warm season due to thunderstorms dropping large amounts of rain in short periods of time.  Although hilly and mountainous terrain is especially prone to flash floods, even relatively flat areas can experience them.  Flash floods created by poor drainage and deep ponding of water on the roads occurred in May 1999 in Pamlico, Carteret, and Craven Counties when eastern areas of North Carolina received four to six inches of rain.

  • General River and Urban Flooding was widespread over North Carolina during the late winter and early spring months of 1998.  Large rainfall amounts fell on ground already saturated by previous heavy rains causing heavy run-off into swollen rivers and streams