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How to Stay Safe During a Flood

Hurricanes usually make headlines for their high winds, but it’s the heavy rain and flooding they bring that poses the greatest threat to your health and safety. The U.S. National Hurricane Center reported that over the last 50 years, 76 percent of deaths from hurricanes and tropical storms were caused by storm surge and flooding. By comparison, high winds accounted for eight percent of deaths.

Hurricane season in the U.S. typically runs from June through November, so even though hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria have already caused massive damage and flooding in the U.S., Caribbean and Mexico, it’s possible that we’ll see more deadly storms before the end of the year. Much of the flood damage from these storms was caused by rising sea levels known as storm surge, but flooding can also be a hazard for people who don’t live along the coastline. Heavy rains can lead to flash flooding, which can be especially dangerous in urban areas where large amounts of asphalt and concrete keep water from soaking into the soil. To see how fast a city street can flood, watch this time-lapse video of a 2016 flash flood in Maryland caused by a severe thunderstorm.

“Laborers can encounter flood hazards on a jobsite, at home or in other places, such as when traveling on a family vacation,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “No matter where you are, following the proper steps can help you and your family prepare for a flood and stay safe during and after one.”

LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni

Before a Flood

  • Make a plan. Hurricanes and other natural disasters often require people to evacuate their homes. Discuss an evacuation plan with your family now so you’ll be prepared later. Knowing details like the route you’ll take if you need to leave, the fastest way to higher ground and whether your home is in a floodplain can save valuable time, reduce stress and maybe even save your life.
  • Have the essentials on hand. Keep at least three days of water, non-perishable food and any important medications on hand at all times so it will be there when you need it. (A three day supply of water is about five gallons per person.) It’s also good to keep spare batteries, blankets, flashlights, a first-aid kit, rubber boots and gloves and a battery-operated radio on hand.
  • Prepare your home and family. If you know a pending storm is likely to cause major flooding, have bags packed and ready in case you need to leave quickly. If they are available, use sandbags to create a barrier around the lowest areas of your home. Charge essential electronics like cell phones in anticipation of losing power.
  • Follow evacuation orders. If possible, disconnect utilities and appliances before you leave to minimize the risk of fire and electrical hazards. Shut off electricity at circuit breakers.

During a Flood

During a storm, water levels and other conditions can change in a matter of minutes. Follow these steps to stay safe.

  • Avoid floodwaters at all costs. People tend to underestimate how strong water is. Six inches of rushing water is strong enough to knock you off your feet and 12-18 inches is enough to move vehicles. Flood waters can also hide other dangers such as submerged metal and glass, holes, chemicals or electrical wires.
  • Remember: Turn Around, Don’t Drown. More than half of flood-related drownings happen in vehicles driven into floodwaters. Never drive through or enter floodwaters in a vehicle.
  • Get to safety right away. Don’t wait for water levels to rise. Leave the area or get to higher ground immediately. Act quickly to save yourself and your family, not your belongings.

After a Flood

  • Continue avoiding floodwaters. Water can be contaminated with sewage and hold diseases like E. coli or other harmful chemicals.
  • Practice generator safety. Power outages after storms lead to many cases of carbon monoxide poisoning. Never use a portable generator in an enclosed space like your home or garage.
  • Avoid electrical hazards. Don’t enter rooms if wall outlets or cords are covered by water. Sparks, buzzing, crackling and popping noises are all signs of dangerous electrical discharge.

The LHSFNA’s General Hurricane Safety & Health Information, Precautions Around Toxic Floodwaters and Avoiding Electrocutions Health Alerts provide more information on avoiding hazards specific to hurricanes and flooding. To order, contact the Fund’s Occupational Safety & Health Division at 202-628-5465 or email

[Nick Fox]

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