In 1993, there was an historic flood throughout the Mississippi Delta and its tributaries. I was a child at the time, but I remember hearing my parents talking about the river rising and the chances of the levee breaking. I didn’t understand what was really going on at the time, but I remember that we took steps both at home and at school to be prepared for if the flood came. We were spared that year but thousands had their lives ruined. Forecasters are saying that this year may be the year that we see a devastating repeat of the Great Flood of 1993.
The Great Flood of 1993 was a devastating blow to America’s heartland. Over 30,000 miles of land were underwater when the river was at its highest point. Of course, river flooding is always something that we take into consideration here. It’s part of our everyday lives. Most of Arkansas sits right at or below sea level. The only parts that don’t are the Ozark Mountains and Crowley’s Ridge.
To the east of us is the mighty, muddy Mississippi River. The Mississippi River is commonly referred to as just “the river” around here because most of the time it’s the only one that really matters. In 1993, unseasonably large amounts of snow in the winter and rain in May combined to create a terrible natural disaster. The Great Flood of 1993 blew all the records out of the history books. It is the one we don’t want to ever see beaten. And they’re saying it might very well be beaten this year.
The 1993 flood broke all the rules about where it was supposed to flood and where it wasn’t. This one may be the same. Flood preparedness is something that is taught to those of us that grew up in the delta from an early age. So let’s talk about how to keep you and your family safe during a flood.
Protecting Your Home
Floodwaters are some of the most damaging things that Mother Nature can throw at us. When it floods, it isn’t like a tornado that it comes in and does the damage and then it’s gone, it sticks with you until everything is dry. Most flood waters come from nearby rivers and tributaries. That means that the water is filthy.
And when I say filthy, I mean nasty. Like if you have ever swam in a river or visited a dock on a river you know what I’m talking about. Oil, dead wildlife, pollution, and sometimes even human waste can come in with the flood. Ick!
Unfortunately most homeowner’s insurance policies don’t cover flood damage. That’s a separate policy and if you live in a flood prone area it is something that you will want to look into. When my husband and I were house hunting we had a really good local real estate agent. He made sure that we understood which houses that we were looking at were in flood zones.
Any home that is in a flood zone that has a mortgage on it is required by the mortgage company to have flood insurance on it. If you have an older home or you are renting, make sure that your policy covers flood damage. The easiest way to do this is to give your insurance agent a call and ask them.
My husband and I made sure we purchased a house that was not in a flood zone. In fact, it’s on top of a hill and all the water runs down to a small creek behind the house.
When I was 8, I remember my mom and dad packing an emergency kit. This kit had a couple of changes of clothes for each of us, some toys for me, a first aid kit, our toiletries, my dad’s medicine, emergency rations (no Twinkies don’t count), bottled water and all of our important paperwork.
I went to school talking about it and almost all of the kids had the same thing going on at home. These emergency kits are essential in these kinds of situations. My dad put it in a large plastic bin and sealed it with duct tape and then put it in the back of his truck. The theory was that if we had to get out in a flooded condition, the truck would make it further than the car would.
Then there was the repeated discussion of what to do if the water rose too high. We went over the evacuation plan multiple times. If we were at home we were just going to grab the cat and run, but if we were at school and work, we had a place to meet and people to call. I had a small notebook with several phone numbers of close family members that I was to call if I hadn’t heard from my parents after 2 hours.
The other part of the evacuation plan was to shut the power off. That was my dad’s job. No matter where he was, his first job was to go to the house and shut the main electrical line off. Knowing what I know now, that was something really smart to plan to do. Water is so damaging to electrical systems. If you cut the power off and check everything before you switch it back on, you could save yourself lots of money in damages.
So you’re at home and you see that your area could be hit with flooding. What do you do to try to make sure your house makes it through? There are some steps you can take that will protect your home from invading waters. Keep in mind, though, none of these are foolproof. Water may still get in to your home.
Check your foundation.
If your foundation has any cracks or openings, you will need to close them with mortar and masonry caulk or hydraulic cement. The cement may be a tad bit more expensive but it will expand to fill any crevice completely. If water is already a recurring problem, you may want to have a professional come in and do an assessment on your foundation or basement.
Invest in a battery powered sump pump.
A sump pump is incredibly useful especially if you have a basement. You can get one for a bit cheaper that is powered through a power cable, but if the lights go out you won’t be able to use it. Invest in a battery powered one. It won’t remove all of the water, but it will keep the flooding in your home down to a minimum.
Move expensive or sentimental items to higher ground.
Assess which items will be incredibly expensive to replace or can’t be replaced at all. Move them to higher ground. If you have a multistory home, then just simply move them to the second or third floor. If you are in a single story home, move them to the attic. We recently built a shed that has a second floor loft, that is where we would move things if we needed to.
Anchor any fuel tanks.
A lot of people around here have natural gas or propane to fuel their heat and cooking. The gas itself is stored in large tanks outside of the home. If those tanks are not secured, they can be picked up by flood water and moved. That increases the chance that they might get punctured or be put under enough pressure to explode.
Install sewer or septic line check valves.
This is a necessity. These check valves keep sewage from coming back out of the waste lines and getting pushed into the flood waters. Nobody wants this situation to become even worse. They are fairly cheap and easy to install or you can have a professional install them.
Document your belongings.
On the chance that you end up with a flooded home and you have to make an insurance claim, it’s easier to have this kind of information prior to the disaster itself. Take pictures of your items and document what you have. Put it in the emergency kit with the policy numbers. That way if you come in and your home is a total loss, you don’t have to go trying to find it in the mess.
Install a flood sensor.
These are little devices that can hook into your existing alarm system and give you a heads up that your home is being flooded. If you don’t have an alarm system, they make them so that they work independently. If the sensor triggers, it will give you time to either take action against the water or to evacuate.
Protect your HVAC equipment.
If you are like us, your central heat and air unit is sitting on a little metal slab on the ground right outside of your house. Water can destroy these systems. The best thing to do is to get them in the air. Raise them a foot over the flood line. If you don’t know how high the water can get, contact your local USGS office.
Prepare your yard.
Make sure that your lawn is graded so that it draws water away from your house. Remember what I said about our house? It’s on top of a hill and the water flows away from it. You can try to do the same thing just on a smaller level. Also, make sure your roof is in good condition and that your gutters are clear. Both of those will help keep your home dry.
Minimize the Damage
Sometimes, things just go badly. You prepared as best as you could, but the water still got in. Well let’s see if we can’t keep the destruction to a minimum. The first thing to try is to sandbag any places where the water is getting in. This might keep more water from getting into your home.
- If it’s not raining, open up windows and doors. This will let air in to circulate and dry out your home. And you want it to dry as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, this type of flooding usually happens in warm months not cold, so mold is going to grow quickly.
- Remember that sump pump? Make sure its running and doing its thing. You may want to have a wet/dry shop vacuum to help get the water out. They may be small but they are mighty.
- Take photos or videos of your home flooding for your insurance. Usually insurance companies won’t have any trouble proving that there was a flood, but you want to make sure your agent has every available resource.
With the flood waters rising to near historic levels, we just want to make sure that you and your family understand how to be safe and how to keep your home safe. A home is not just an investment. It is the physical embodiment of your memories. Here at Nelson Design Group we understand that.
Stay safe. Watch the news. Be weather aware.
- How to Protect Your Home From Flooding
- 8 Ways to Protect Your Home from Flooding
- Protecting Your Home from Water Damage and Flooding
- Is there a way to keep floodwaters out of my house?