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Winter storm brings rain, flooding to Gulf Coast communities
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Leigh-Anne Dennison
December 22, 2006

For the residents of New Orleans and surrounding areas, a winter storm delivering heavy rains throughout the region may be bringing with it an eerie sense of déjà vu along with the flooding – reportedly knee deep or higher in areas.

The same storm front that brought snow to the West and some Plains states this week, deluged the Gulf Coast city and surrounding suburbs with heavy and prolonged rains, filling streets with water and causing traffic delays as city water pumps struggled to keep up. According to the Associated Press, an estimated 6 to 12 inches of rain had accumulated already in communities throughout the area. With raining continuing today, the National Weather Service had issued a flash flood warning for parts of east-central and southeastern Louisiana that was in effect through noon today.

“In order to protect yourself from disasters like flash floods, it is important to take personal responsibility for your own safety,” said American Red Cross preparedness expert Joscelyn Silsby. “Listen to local officials – radio and television reports – to stay updated on conditions and focus on being prepared and staying safe in the face of rising flood waters.”

The Red Cross offers the following recommendations to those facing potential or coping with flooding.

Be Informed and Get Prepared

If it has been raining hard for hours or steadily raining for days, be alert to the possibility of a flood. A flash flood WATCH means flash flooding is possible in your area. When a flood or flash flood WATCH is issued…

  • Listen to NOAA Weather radio, local radio or TV stations for flood information.
  • Be alert to signs of flash flooding and be ready to evacuate on a moment's notice.
  • Move your furniture and valuables to higher floors of your home.
  • Fill your car's fuel tank, in case an evacuation notice is issued.
  • A flash flood WARNING means a flash flood is occurring or will occur very soon.

When a Flood WARNING is issued…

  • Continue to monitor news reports for updates, advice and official announcements.
  • If told to evacuate or if you think a flash flood has started, do so as soon as possible.
  • Move to higher ground away from rivers, streams, creeks and storm drains.
  • Do not drive around barricades; they are there for your safety.

In the face of impending severe weather, there are steps that can be taken to get prepared:

  • Get a kit – Buy or gather the following six types of items and put them in an easy-to-carry container in a cool, dry and easy-to-access place: (1) water, (2) non-perishable food, (3) first aid supplies, (4) battery powered-radio, (5) flashlight with extra batteries and (6) special items for medical conditions. Be sure to consider any unique items that might be needed for pets, infants or small children and older household members. While monitoring conditions, take a few minutes to gather personal items – like identification, cash, area maps, insurance policies and keys – in case you must evacuate quickly.
  • Make a Plan – If you don’t have pre-set plans, use the time you have to do so now. Create an evacuation plan that includes identifying multiple routes in case some are inaccessible and locating motels/hotels, emergency shelters or other places to stay along your evacuation route outside the impacted area. Print out helpful tips from sites such as RedCross.org for handling issues like power outages, generator safety, water treatment and food safety. Finally, make or update an emergency communications plan and contact list, and contact loved ones now to tell them your plans if you must evacuate, sharing anticipated routes and travel times if necessary. In the event you are separated from loved ones and cannot reach them by phone, try alternatives such as text messaging, e-mail and reporting your status on the Red Cross Safe and Well Web site, accessible through Redcross.org.
  • Be Informed – Find out now how authorities will notify you and where evacuation or emergency sheltering centers are likely to be in or near your community. Check maps for alternate routes out of your neighborhood in the event that streets are flooded or blocked. Pay close attention to news reports not just for weather updates but for information related to road closings, power outages or affected utilities and services in your own and adjacent communities. Follow the instructions of local public works and government officials.

Turn Around, Don’t Drown

“Flash flooding can develop in as little as a few minutes to a few hours and quick accumulation can make it more dangerous, not less,” said Silsby. “Don’t trust markers on the side of the road to gauge the depth of water. The road may be washed out making it deeper then it appears.”

According to the National Weather Service, the reason that so many people drown during flooding is because they don’t realize the power of water.

  • Stay away from floodwaters – If you come upon a flooded road, turn around and go another way.
  • Never attempt to drive through water – Most cars can be swept away by less than two feet of moving water. Many flood-related deaths are caused by people attempting to drive through floodwaters. Floodwaters can erode quickly roadways, and a missing section of road – even a missing bridge – may not be visible with water running over the area.
  • Avoid walking through floodwaters – Just six inches of moving water can sweep most people off their feet.

After the Flood

Besides water damage, one of the most common problems caused by rain storms and flooding is loss of electricity. If you experience a blackout, and it is otherwise safe for you to remain in your home, the following tips can help you cope until power is restored:

  • Turn off electronic devices – Turn off appliances or equipment that were on when the power went out. Leave one light turned on to easily determine when power has been restored.
  • Use battery powered lights – Due to the extreme risk of fire, do not use candles during a power outage; choose flashlights or other battery-powered lights.
  • Operate generators outside ONLY – Do not run a generator inside a confined space, like home or garage, due to the extreme dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Follow directions for connecting to a generator – If you use a generator, connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. Do not connect a generator to a home's electrical system unless you have an approved power transfer switch installed.
  • Eliminate unnecessary travel – Unnecessary travel may hamper efforts by emergency and construction crews, In addition, traffic signals stop working during an outage, creating congestion and fallen trees, branches or other debris may make some roads inaccessible.
  • Keep refrigerator doors closed – Avoid opening the refrigerator and freezer to keep the contents cold.

To learn more about flood and flash flood safety, visit the “Get Prepared” section of Redcross.org or contact your local Red Cross chapter. For tips and information about staying safe after a storm or flood, check out “After a Disaster” in the “Disaster Services” section of the Red Cross Web site.

The American Red Cross helps people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. Last year, almost a million volunteers and 35,000 employees helped victims of almost 75,000 disasters; taught lifesaving skills to millions; and helped U.S. service members separated from their families stay connected. Almost 4 million people gave blood through the Red Cross, the largest supplier of blood and blood products in the United States. The American Red Cross is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. The Red Cross is not a government agency; it relies on donations of time, money, and blood to do its work.

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