Hidden dangers of flooding, flash flooding

By Josh Harvison - bio | email

PARAGOULD/JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - According to the Craighead County Office of Emergency Management, more people have died in floods when they are inside their vehicles. Flooding is the 3rd leading cause of death in natural disasters. In response to the deadly Memorial Day weekend, the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management issued a news release warning about flood dangers.

"You've got to really take into consideration. It doesn't take a foot of water, less than a foot of water can sweep you off your feet," said Curtis Davenport.

Davenport has been part of the Greene County Rescue Squad for more than 20 years. He said he's worked fatal accidents in floods. He also said he's been in the middle of a flash flood.

"I was on a gravel road and it scooted me sideways about 12-15 feet in a car, and it was a light car, but it moved me. So I know firsthand what its like," said Davenport. "If you try to get out in water moving that fast it's going to wash you away."

The Jonesboro area had 3 inches of rain over the Memorial Day weekend.

"We had an extreme amount of rain come in and it was pocketed in areas, just unbelievable amounts. We've had more rain than we've had in years to have so much rain in such a small time," said David Moore, Craighead County Office of Emergency Management.

Moore said people don't realize how strong water can be. It can destroy roads, houses and lives.

"They've been down that road 1,000 times and now there is water running over it but how much water has crossed that, how much has washed out around those culvers, if that bridge is undermined, it could fall away with them," said Moore.

Chief Meteorologist for Region 8 News Ryan Vaughan said flooding isn't like any other natural weather event. Most of the time, flooding is slow and things can be done ahead of time to prepare. However, other times flash floods can occur. In most fatal accidents in floods, people don't expect the danger.

"We think that we're just doing normal everyday activities. We're not in that much danger and then we find ourselves in danger," said Vaughan.

Vaughan, Moore and Davenport said people don't understand the power of water.

"People think that they can overpower the water or they can handle it. That's a lot of things in life. We think that we can handle certain things that we can't," said Vaughan.

"This doesn't happen very often so people don't have that experience of doing it, even in a 4 wheel drive truck or an SUV. It kind of gives people a sense of confidence," said Davenport. "If it's more than about 4 inches, I wouldn't drive through it. It's not worth it because you don't know if underneath it, if it's given way, the pavement or the gravel road has given way. We had that happen in Greene County."

The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management said six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars. That amount of water easily causes cars to lose control.

"The one thing that I think people just underestimate is just the power of water and I know that sounds very simple but people just do not understand that it doesn't take a whole lot of water to move something, whether it be yourself, your car, sometimes buildings," said Vaughan.

"Just a couple of inches of fast moving water can push a car off the road, and as the water gets deeper, when you start getting, 3-4-5 inches of hard moving water, it can move a very large vehicle," said Moore.

"Even Spring River, you know what it's like in knee deep water there, try to stand up, so you really got to take into consideration, the swiftness of the water, the terrain, the conditions," said Davenport.

Furthermore, 12 inches of water can sweep a vehicle from the road and into ditches, rivers and creeks. While Vaughan was out in the storms Sunday night, he said he approached high water on the road.

"Once the sun went down and it got dark, even myself, hit some water that was about a foot deep, didn't mean to, just driving down the road and places that you typically go down the road each and every time it rains, maybe that one time it's flooding," said Vaughan.

Rushing water can wreak havoc on bridges. In Greene County, a culver on Highway 358 was washed out Sunday night.

"It could have been a paved road an hour ago or a good hard gravel road an hour ago but it could be gone. It could be full of holes or the pavement. The road bed underneath could have gave way and you could get stuck there and be trapped," said Davenport.

Davenport said the strength of the current can be misleading. The water may appear calm at the surface, but the undercurrent could be turbulent.

"Not knowing that there was a current underneath there going through that culver and as that water rushed through there, it's going to suck anything it can down there with it and that's one of those hidden dangers," said Davenport.

"Keep a watch on the weather; make your plans well in advance if you live in an area where you know you've got flooding problems. Be aware of it, take care of yourselves because we've done lost entirely too many people in this state over the last few months with the flooding," said Moore.

"Try to think about it ahead of time and not get in those situations would be the best thing to try to avoid those situations because people are going to panic and they're going to make bad choices," said Davenport.

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