Flood Safety

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February 1996 flood near Woodland
A home near Woodland during the February 1996 flood.

Flooding is the nation’s most common and costliest disaster. Ninety percent of all U.S. disasters involve some flooding.

During the past 30 years, flooding in the U.S. has killed an average of 82 people a year and caused $7.96 billion a year in property damage.

According to national statistics, homes inside high-risk flood areas have a 26 percent chance of being damaged by flooding over the life of a 30-year mortgage, compared with a 4 percent chance of fire damage.

Clark County’s last big flood, in February 1996, damaged or destroyed nearly 300 homes and caused $25 million in property losses.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's website has information about flooding, flood insurance and flood insurance rate maps.

Flood advisory, watch and warning

The National Weather Service uses the following terms when warning residents about potential flooding:

Flood advisory - be aware: A flood advisory is issued when flooding is not expected to be significant enough to justify issuing  a flood warning. However, flooding could threaten life and property if residents do not exercise sufficient caution.

Flood watch - be prepared: A flood watch is issued when conditions could lead to flooding. Residents should be prepared for flooding that may occur, including being ready to evacuate quickly.

Flood warning - take action: A flood warning is issued when flooding is imminent or already has started.

Before, during and after flooding

Residents, particularly those living in flood-prone areas, should review the following:

Before a flood

  • Purchase flood insurance, especially if you live in a flood-prone area. Unless you have purchased a policy through the National Flood Insurance Program, you likely are not protected against flood-related losses. There is a 30-day waiting period before coverage takes effect. For more information, visit the flood insurance page on the Clark County website or go directly to the National Flood Insurance Program website.
  • Prepare an evacuation plan. Have an evacuation plan for all household members that includes a meeting place outside your house, as well as an escape route out of the flood plain and away from floodwaters.
  • Reduce risk of damage to homes. Practical and cost-effective methods for reducing or eliminating this risk are available to property owners whose homes have experienced damage from flooding in the past or may experience damage in the future. Such techniques include elevating the home, relocating the home to higher ground, constructing flood walls or berms and protecting utilities. Fuel tanks can become floating bombs during floods. All fuel tanks in flood-prone areas should be anchored to prevent flotation.

During a flood 

  • Do not walk through a flooded area. Drowning is the No. 1 cause of flood-related deaths, mostly during flash floods. Currents can be deceptive; 6 inches of moving water can knock you off your feet. If you must walk in standing water, use a pole or stick to probe for stable ground.
  • Don’t drive through a flooded area. More people drown in their cars than anywhere else. Turn around; don't drown.
  • Don’t drive around road barriers. They have been put there for a reason. The road or bridge ahead may be washed out, something you might not see in the dark. If you come upon a barricade or flooded road, go another way.
  • Stay away from power lines and electrical wires. The No. 2 killer during floods is electrocution. Electrical current can travel through water. Report downed power lines to Clark Public Utilities at (360) 992-8000.
  • Shut off gas and electricity and move valuable contents upstairs. Be prepared in advance with a detailed checklist because warning of an impending flood may provide little time prior to evacuation.
  • Look out for animals. Small animals that have been flooded out of their homes may seek shelter in yours.
  • Look before you step. After a flood, the ground and floors likely will be covered with debris, including broken glass and nails. Floors and stairs that have been coated with mud can be slippery.
  • Be alert for gas leaks. Use a flashlight to inspect for damage. Don’t smoke or use candles, lanterns or open flames unless you know that the gas has been turned off and the area has been ventilated.
  • Tune to local radio stations. Use a battery operated radio to get the latest emergency information.

After a flood

  • Even after floodwaters recede, dangers still exist. 
  • Roads may remain closed because they have been damaged or are covered with water. Remember that barricades have been placed for your protection.
  • Emergency workers will be assisting people in flooded areas. You can help them by staying off the roads and out of the way.

If you must walk or drive in flooded areas:

  • Stay on firm ground.
  • Avoid standing water. It may be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines or be contaminated with chemicals or sewage.
  • Use caution. Floodwaters often erode roads and walkways. Flood debris may hide animals and broken glass.
  • Play it safe. Additional flooding or flash floods can occur. Listen for local warnings and information.
  • If your car stalls in rising waters, get out immediately and climb to higher ground.
  • Listen to the radio or television and do not return home until authorities say it is safe to do so.

When you return home, follow these safety tips:

  • If your home, apartment or business has suffered damage, file a claim with your insurance company right away.
  • Do not use matches, cigarette lighters or any other open flame in or around structures since gas may be trapped inside. Use a flashlight instead.
  • Turn off the electricity at the main breaker or fuse box, even if the power is off in your neighborhood. Do not turn power back on until an electrician has inspected your system for safety.
  • Protect your health by cleaning up your house right away. Floodwaters can pick up sewage and chemicals from roads, farms and factories. Throw out foods and medicine that may have been in flood waters.
  • Until authorities say your water supply is safe, vigorously boil water for drinking and food preparation for at least 1 minute.