2019 is off to a soggy start, and while Tullahoma isn’t necessarily in a floodplain, there are areas within the community that could become a hazard during flash flooding. Learning how to better prepare yourself for a flood and what to do during a flood could make a difference in damages, life and death.
The last devastating flood that happened close to home was the Nashville flood of 2010. According the National Weather Service, there were 26 fatalities reported. Eighteen of those fatalities were in Middle Tennessee. During this flood, the Cumberland River in Nashville crested near 52 feet, which is the highest level seen since a flood in 1937.
Here in Tullahoma, residents living near creeks or in floodplains could experience flash flooding. The National Weather Service defines flash flooding as a rapid and extreme flow of high water into a normally dry area, or a rapid water level rise in a stream or a creek above a predetermined flood level, beginning within six hours of the causative event, for instance, heavy rainfall.
“It’s really important to monitor the weather conditions for your area,” said Coffee County Emergency Management Director Allen Lendley. “If you live in a floodplain and the water begins to rise, evacuate. Luckily, in Coffee County we are fortunate to live on the higher ground than where the Duck and Elk River flow, but we do have low-lying roads that water tends to flow over during flooding. If you know you live in a floodplain, evacuate.”
The National Weather Service has several recommendations to help individuals prepare for a flood, how to handle a flood while it’s happening and what to do after a flood to help protect yourself and your property.
Before the flood
Because flash floods can happen within minutes, it’s best to be prepared for this event in advance. Having a plan in place and being prepared can save your home and your life.
• Create a communication plan. In the event of a flood or other disaster, it’s important to know how you are going to communicate with your loved ones or emergency respondents. Memorize specific numbers that you could use in the event that you don’t have your phone or written down. Come up with a safe meeting place for family members in the event that disaster does strike and telephone lines are down. Having a plan will help keep your mind clear in the event of a disaster.
• Assemble an emergency Kit. Keep a stockpile of nonperishable food items, bottled water and simple medicines in a safe but easily assessable place to get to in case of an emergency. When a flood occurs, it could disrupt water service and cause tap water to become unsafe. Floods can also knock power sources out and can interrupt service for days until the water clears. Include extra batteries, blankets and flashlights into your kit. Battery-operated radios are also a smart and practical item to keep in your emergency kit.
• Know your risk. Knowing if your home, workplace or school is in a floodplain can help you better prepare in the event of a flash flood. Observe roadways that could possibly have running water over them in the event of a flood. Know alternate routes around those roadways. Know how to navigate to higher ground if need be.
• Prepare your home. Even though some floods can be predicted by the local weather forecast, flash floods can happen in minutes. Preparing your home in advance could save your life and prevent damages to your home. Make sure all pumps and drainage systems are properly working. Check fuses to make sure that they are all properly and clearly marked. Purchasing flood insurance is also a preventative. However, it must be done in advance as insurance companies will not sell flood insurance if one has been predicted. Insurance policies sometimes take 30 days to go into effect. Purchasing in advance would better protect your home in case of an emergency.
• Prepare your pets. In the event you must evacuate, be sure to have all pets and supplies on board. If evacuating with your pets is not an option, board them in an area that is safe from the flooding until you are able to reunite with them.
• Charge your essential electronics.
• Leave. If your home is likely to flood, make the executive decision to leave. Arrange plans to stay somewhere else until the threat is over.
During the flood
During a flood, water levels and water flow can change quickly. Avoid flood waters at all costs. This includes on foot and in vehicles. If you find yourself in an area that is beginning to flood, evacuate immediately.
“If you find yourself trapped during a flood, call 911,” Lendley said. “Coffee County has resources available that can rescue someone in an emergency. Make sure that cellphones are charged because landlines have become a thing of the past. Call if you get stuck. I’ve seen situations before that have put our responders at risk when rescuing, but sometimes that’s what the job entails. If you see an area flooding, give our office a call. We can report the flooding to the National Weather Service to update the community on the weather conditions.”
• Stay informed. Listen to the radio or watch the local news forecasts. Use the internet on your smartphone to stay up to date on the latest weather report.
• Get to higher ground. If you live in a flood-prone area or are in a flood prone area, get to higher ground as soon as possible.
• Obey evacuation orders. If told to evacuate, do it. If time allows, unplug appliances. Lock your door on the way out.
• Practice electrical safety. Do not go into any room where the water is covering the electrical outlets or if cords are submerged. If there are any buzzing, crackling or popping noises, get out because there may be electricity in the water.
• Avoid flood waters. Do not walk or drive through flood waters. It doesn’t take much water to knock someone down or push a moving vehicle. Flood waters are often murky and not transparent. Seeing what’s underneath is near impossible. Sharp objects, electrical wires and washed out road surfaces could be not be visible.
“It doesn’t take but a few inches of flood water to float a car,” commented Lendley. “Three to 4 inches can move a car. If there is flood water over a road, then how do you know what’s underneath? Water can wash the road away, so don’t drive around a barricade. They are up for a reason, and that’s to keep you safe. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you need to be rescued. When in doubt, turn around.”
After the flood
Dealing with the aftermath of flooding can be difficult. Clean up takes days and water damage is hard to repair. However, it’s best to wait until all flooding has deceased before clean up begins. What’s under the water can be deadly.
“I’ve seen it happen before that a house will develop mold if not properly taken care of after standing water enters and sits in the house,” Lendley advised. “Insurance companies will send a local restoration company to assess the house and fix the house so that mold doesn’t form. Federal dollars can also be claimed, but those are only available during major disasters like the flood from 2010.”
• Avoid closed roads and caution signs. Caution signs and road closures are for the public’s safety. While slightly inconvenient, find another way until all roadways are operable.
• Wait for the all clear. If your home was damaged by flood waters, don’t return until authorities give it the OK. Floors can collapse, ceilings can fall and electrical currents could be present in standing water.
For more tips on flood safety and information, visit the National Weather Service website at www.weather.gov. For more information on the Coffee County Emergency Management Agency, visit www.coffeecountytn.gov/174/emergency-management.
Faith Few can be reached by email at email@example.com.