Floods 101: An underestimated disaster

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Floods are not uncommon in South Africa and have occurred numerous times in various areas over the past few months.

This natural disaster is often underestimated and misjudged, when weighed against other more ‘alarming’ disasters such as tornadoes or earthquakes.

Flooding is in fact one of the natural disasters which has caused the most deaths over the years and which can be the most destructive.

It causes incredible havoc and its after effects can be long-lasting.

This is the fourth of six articles relating to natural disasters that have recently affected South Africa.

• Read: Hurricanes and cyclones 101: Know the difference

What are floods?

A flood is defined as rapid accumulation of water, usually over hard or dry land, caused by heavy rain or a mass of water that escaped from its confines.

In South Africa’s case, heavy rain after a long drought was the main cause of floods in various parts of the country.

How does it manifest?

According to National Geographic, a flood occurs when water overflows or inundates land that’s normally dry.

Excessive rain or a ruptured dam can overwhelm a river and send it spreading over the adjacent land, called a floodplain.

Coastal flooding occurs when a large storm or tsunami causes the sea to surge inland.

Some floods generate quickly and with little warning.

These flash floods can be extremely dangerous, instantly turning a babbling brook into a thundering wall of water and sweeping everything in its path downstream.

During last year’s floods in Gauteng, William Ntladi, spokesman for the Disaster and Emergency Management Services said:

“Remember, it takes only six inches (15.24cm) of rushing water to knock an adult off his feet.”

What are the dangers?

With floods being highly underestimated, it’s one of the highest ranking natural disasters with some of the most fatalities in the world.

The force of the water is often greater than what many think and only realise when it may be too late.

It takes a mere 60cm to carry a vehicle away, much less for a person.

The rushing water can drag along any type of debris which may be invisible from the surface and cause injury to anyone caught in the stream.

It is almost impossible to control the direction in which you are dragged when caught in the rushing water and colliding against an object can be a very real threat.

• Also read: Hurricanes and cyclones 101: Know the difference

What to do?

Ntladi also gave the following advice on what to do if floods begin in your area:

• If possible, go to higher ground immediately.

• When driving, always be aware that the road bed under flood waters may be severely damaged.

• Never drive through flooded roadways, remember that it takes only 60cm of water to carry away a vehicle, including pickups and SUVs.

• Do not drive through standing water on roads, driving through water may stall your engine with the potential to cause irreparable damage if you try to restart the engine.

• If your vehicle stalls, get out immediately and go to higher ground.

• Be extra cautious at night, when it is harder to see possible flood dangers.

• These four words could save your life: turn around, don’t drown.

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Izahn Krige
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