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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Surviving A Flood

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I haven't written anything for over a year (had some stuff I had to work thru) but hopefully I'll try post more, though not as the same frequency as before.

Anyways, of all the disasters or extreme events, flooding kills more people each year than any other natural calamity and as the last entry of this humble blog warns us---as if prophetically roughly about three months afterwards---typhoon Ondoy (international name: Ketsana) hammered thru Metro Manila and some neighboring provinces bringing record rainfall and the worst flooding of recent history. However, in 2005, Louisiana and its major city, New Orleans faced the wrath Katrina and levees that were supposed to keep the waters out failed.

A year after Ondoy there are still many things we need to learn if not on an institutional level, at the very least, on a personal one. I personally experienced floodings growing-up. The rising, dirty waters that overwhelm everything has been an unsettling experience to say the least. Depending on your location, a great danger is that flood waters can rise quickly at any time, as in the case of flash flooding. This comes so quickly in fact there is literally no time to save anything and the chances of surviving safely and securely diminish quickly as well. As with any kind of disaster management and mitigation scheme then, preparation is key.

First off, determine if your location is situated near or at a flood-prone area. From this knowledge, one can prepare adequately beforehand. It is also worthwhile to note that even if your place is not directly affected by floods, some degree of forethought is encouraged (i.e. – alternate routes to take when high waters wash away the major roads) because what we are now seeing is a global trend where more and more places are being reached by the rising waters. Some experts attribute this to climate change causing severe weather phenomena or storms of such magnitude that they dump record-level rainfall in just a short span of time. Certain government agencies and research groups have also engaged in the “hazard mapping” of our country to identify key locations where flooding disasters have been known to occur with great frequency or intensity. One can go online for these resources.

Furthermore, if you are located in such a location, one must accept the sad fact that help or any kind of assistance or even rescue might not be immediate, that it may not come for some time. During the height of a catastrophe, government resources and personnel are stretched thin or have been proven to be inadequate in their response. The lesson here is that survival depends greatly, or even solely, on us.

Secondly, a major part of preparation is building or assembling the family emergency kit or kits should you and your family need to evacuate your home. The contents of the kit depend on your family’s needs plus some basic essentials. These maybe contained in sturdy travel bags or backpacks. Others recommend the plastic utility storage containers we can get from the houseware department of your local mall. Keeping it simple though, even just a pail with a lid on top might just be enough. Being water-tight and portable though is thoroughly recommended. The list of its possible contents below:

  1. Water – There maybe water everywhere but none of it is safe for hydration or sanitation, hence one needs to store as much of it as one can. Experts recommend one gallon per person, per day. Non-evacuees must remember that other than filtering then chemically treating, boiling it might be difficult without kitchen facilities. If possible, a minimum supply for three days and an extended supply for two weeks is recommended
  2. Food – In a survival situation, one’s food intake isn’t that demanding. Long shelf life, preserved or canned foods as well as dishes needing minimal water to prepare or cook are needed. For non-evacuees, due to the lack of refrigeration, perishable items must be cooked and consumed first. Again, if possible a minimum supply for three days and an extended supply for two weeks is recommended
  3. Documents – Includes ID’s, birth certificates, leases, passports, insurance policies, medical records, etc.
  4. Cell phone with chargers or extra batteries
  5. Flashlights
  6. Radio
  7. Extra batteries
  8. Candles and matches
  9. Medical/First Aid kit – Consider the special medication of those who need it (i.e. – diabetes or heart medication)
  10. Hygiene or Wash kit
  11. Plastic bags – Have several on hand of various sizes like the large garbage bags or the “zip lock” bags we use in the kitchen could prove valuable during this time. There are also commercially available water-tight, reseal-able storage bags in some hardware or outdoor shops to put important items in. The large ones can also function as improvised rain gear or to collect rain water.
  12. Kitchen and tableware – A deep pot can double as storage, a shallow pan for quick cooking, a small, light chopping board, eating utensils and a knife
  13. Blankets or coats – Keeping warm is beneficial both physically as well as psychologically
  14. Money
  15. Some items for entertainment – Trying to survive this situation with long periods of idleness can be difficult. Bring along a book, some toys for the children or some simple keepsake to while away the time
There are now commercially made emergency kits available and special emergency devices like solar or “hand crank” radios, flashlights and chargers that don’t need batteries but only require you to wind them up for a few minutes. It might be good to invest in these.

The kit or kits should be placed in a secure but readily accessible place in the house in the event of a hasty evacuation. Also, if one already has such a kit in place, restocking and replacing maybe necessary for some items. Batteries for example can lose their efficiency after a few months. Food and medicines have expiration dates.

Thirdly, as in every other disaster scenario, the kit is just part of an overall family-based emergency plan one makes. Make a plan involving the whole family, with emphasis on the elderly, the infirm and children. As a head of the family and one leading this plan, it involves asking yourself questions like:

  • How do we know if we need to evacuate or not?
  • Is the family transport/vehicle ready to go if this happens?
  • If we need to evacuate, where are we going?
  • If that place in unavailable, is there another one?
  • What road do I take to get there? Are there any alternate routes?
  • Who do I assign what? (Division of labor or responsibility)
  • If we’re separated when the floods do come, does each member know what to do and where to go?
For cases when evacuation is not immediate or may not be possible or feasible, non-evacuees who are in their homes or offices are encouraged to take note of the following “10 C’s of Flood Survival”:

  1. Calm – Don’t panic! In every emergency and survival situation, this is absolutely the first step. It makes for better decision-making in these trying times.
  2. Current – In cases of sudden floods (flash flooding), if the electricity hasn’t been shut off, the rush or splashing of the waters will reach the electrical outlets or appliances that are still plugged-in. This can cause electrocution. Turn off the general switch in the house’s circuit breaker or fuse box to prevent this.
  3. Car – If you weren’t able to park securely and have become suddenly caught inside your vehicle, it’s going to be a weighed decision on whether to stay or not. However, due to possible traffic piling up, unseen road hazards, and possible flash flooding, it is recommended to abandon your vehicle and seek higher ground. At times, it only takes two feet of moving water to wash away small vehicles (collisions are also very likely). If the car is trapped at home, disconnect the battery by removing the black cable on the negative terminal first. Conversely, when reconnecting though, it’s the positive or red cable that is connected first.
  4. Caution – You’ve probably heard about the unseen “open manhole” incidents which people fell-in. Don’t be less cautious in you own home. There is no electricity and the waters will become murky which won’t allow you to see hazardous objects below or floating on the water, leading to possible injuries.
  5. Cold – The damp cold of the water (along with the accompanying shock of what’s happening) can lower your core body temperature leading to hypothermia, which this author personally experienced as a younger man being “chilled” by the waters. Get off the water as much as you can.
  6. Care – If someone has become injured, it needs immediate attention as this septic environment can quickly make wounds infected. Feet being exposed to wetness for long periods can lead to foot rot As much as possible, keep off the water and your feet warm and dry. Remember those plastic bags? Those can really help by wrapping your feet in or wrap over the bandage to keep the wound dry.
  7. Cordage – Rope, electrical wire, appliance cords, car safety belts or anything you can tie down things with to keep things from floating about or to secure items.
  8. Container – Take anything from kitchen pans, wash basins, cabinet drawers, old boxes, etc. to keep essential items off the water.
  9. Cascade-up – This is especially true for single-storey homes. Arrange your furniture or build-up whatever objects or structures you may have to enable you to go higher should the waters continue to rise.
  10. Call attention to yourselves – Grab any chance to be rescued or be given relief. Hang a brightly colored towel or cloth outside like a flag to make yourself visible or make noise with a cooking pot or a key chain whistle to make those within hearing distance know there are still occupants inside your house.
Finally, be aware and be informed by listening to the local authorities and monitoring the latest news or broadcasts. This is very important to assess your status with regards to present events like if more bad weather is coming, identifying how safe or severely affected certain locations are or if help is coming.

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