Thursday, May 13, 2010

Diocesan Preparedness Month: Turn Around, Don't Drown

If you're not a Texas native, you may have only heard stories about the floods that have wreaked havoc on some of our biggest cities over the years. Type "Austin flood" or "Houston flood" into any websearch, and you're bound to find a wealth of news stories, photos, and even tall tales about these watery events.

About a year ago, I got a small taste of Houston's floods. Traveling into the city from Albuquerque, New Mexico, our plane circled the city several times before landing at Bush Intercontinental Airport. We were headed for Hobby Airport, but rain and flood waters prevented us from landing there. Of course, we didn't get off the plane at Bush, and I might be one of the very few people in the world who have traveled from one Houston airport to another via a commercial flight. Leaving the airport that night, I drove through as much as six inches of moving water. I knew very little about floods at the time, and just plowed through, sticking to the shallowest areas, and praying that I'd be safe.

I do not recommend that you do likewise.

A common phrase in flood-prone areas of Texas is "Turn around, don't drown." According to the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes ("FLASH"), the majority of flood deaths occur when people become trapped in cars stalled in flood waters.

Turn around, don't drown means to never drive through standing or moving water.

Water is amazingly deceptive. Even the clearest blue ocean throws our normal depth perception askew. Floods are no different; they hide the dips and ditches of the road, the depths of which may surprise us and put us in danger of stalling, damaging our cars, or drowning.

Low levels of moving water can damage roads; a couple of feet is enough to float your vehicle away, with you in it.

Always find alternate routes around flooded areas, or (better yet) avoid driving in floods at all. If you are in your vehicle and are caught in a flash flood, seek shelter in or on a stable structure immediately. Move to high ground, or to the highest point in a building that you can get to.

Turn around; don't drown. It truly could save your life.

For more information, visit the National Weather Service's "Turn Around Don't Drown" webpage.

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