Rising water, a deadly concern

Published 11:28 pm Friday, February 25, 2011

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series this week about hazardous weather. This is Severe Weather Awareness Week across the state of Alabama.

When it rains, sometimes it pours, resulting in floods and flash floods.

“Alabama residents fall victim to these dangerous phenomena each year,” said Rhonda Abbott, director of the Dallas County Emergency Management Agency. “This is true in Dallas County as well.”

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This is Severe Weather Awareness Week in Alabama. During this special week, Alabamians are encouraged to learn and review the proper safety precautions necessary for protecting their lives during severe weather.

General river flooding occurs when heavy rains and runoff fill river basins with too much water too quickly, she said.

Flash floods occur suddenly and usually within hours of excessive localized heavy rainfall.

“These flash floods can become raging torrents, ripping through neighborhoods, streets or valleys, destroying whatever is in their paths,” Abbott said.

The National Weather Service issues a flood watch, highlighting the flash flood potential in and around the specified area when conditions look favorable.

The specified area usually covers several counties, Abbott said.

“When a flash flood warning is issued for a smaller area, people should act quickly because that means flash floods are an imminent threat,” she said.

Here are some flood and flash flood safety rules prepared by the National Weather Service:

During periods of heavy rains, stay away from known flood areas, such as streambeds, drainage ditches and culverts. Move to higher ground if flooding threatens your area.

Heavy rain should be a signal alerting you to the possibility of dangerous flood conditions. If you live or work in known flood-prone areas, remain alert during periods of heavy rain.

Never drive your car into water of unknown depth. Most flash flood deaths occur when people drive their vehicles into floodwaters.

If your vehicle stalls, abandon it immediately and seek higher ground. Floodwater may rise very quickly and could cover the vehicle and sweep it away. Be especially cautious at night, as it is harder to recognize flood dangers.

A rapidly flowing stream or ditch can sweep you off your feet or sweep your vehicle downstream. Children are especially vulnerable and should not be allowed to play in or around flowing water. Water can also run off streets and parking lots very rapidly, causing natural and man-made drainage systems to overflow with rushing floodwaters. Floodwaters can hide rocks, trees, trash and other types of debris.