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  • What the Historic Flooding in Texas Teaches About Flood Preparation

    This year the National Weather Service predicted a high probability of a cool, wet winter for the southeast United States. In Texas, so far, that prediction has been bang on.

    Over Halloween weekend, a storm battered the south-central and southeast parts of the state, leaving six dead. The weekend before, on October 25, remnants of Hurricane Patricia exacerbated flooding from a storm system that had already dropped more than a foot of rain in parts of Texas.

    Texas via Fox2Now

    Plano, Texas, saw almost 9 ½ inches fall in October – more than twice its typical rainfall. Kelli Robertson, of Plano, saw water level with the top of the gutters in the street during the October 23-25 storm.

    Her family lost power for twelve hours and cleaned up water pouring in through a leaky roof. They dressed by flashlight and traveled through sodden streets to send their children to school – where the children faced intermittent power outages throughout the day.

    “[Her husband] Paul was like, ‘Yeah, I’m thinking about emergency preparation,’” she said.

    Here are some things they were thinking about.

    Several months before, hail damaged many homes in Robertson’s neighborhood. After that storm, many of their neighbors replaced their roofs. Though her home had minor damage, Kelli’s family couldn’t get it fixed.

    During the October 24 storm, her husband Paul noticed water pouring through the return air vent in their home’s ceiling. He ran up to the attic and saw water.

    “It was running down the inside of the wood, down vents into the house. It was never ending,” Kelli said.

    They put buckets under the leaks and mopped the water up with towels.

    Now they’re trying to figure out how to fix the roof. They have insurance, and homeowner’s policies usually cover storm damage if it comes from above. However, they have a high deductible.

    “We can’t do a new roof right now. No way,” she said.

    This year, they already had to spend several thousand dollars fixing a water main that broke and flooded their yard. Their insurance policy only covered the cost of digging up the leaky pipe; not repairs. Since the digging cost was less than their deductible, Kelli’s family ended up paying for the whole job.

    “I’ve learned a lot more about insurance lately,” she said.

    Flooded House via Telegraph - Texas via The Telegraph

    Federal emergency management officials recommend homeowners buy flood insurance in addition to regular homeowner’s insurance. It’s available through local agents but is backed by the National Flood Insurance Program, a federal program. For an average of $600 per year, based on standardized rates determined by an area’s flood risks, homeowners get up to $350,000 worth of coverage for their home and possessions. When buying insurance, be aware of deductibles and caps on compensation. The flood insurance program only covers a home’s structure up to $250,000.

    In addition to an interior rain storm, Kelli’s family faced a power outage for 12 hours.

    “We had no power. We had cell phones, but we didn’t know how long we’d need them to last. We had food, but we couldn’t cook on the stove,” Kelli said.

    However, others outside their neighborhood had power or quickly regained it. Their children all had school that day.

    “The school sent us an e-mail: ‘Your power may be out but we still have school, so come in.’” she said. “We had to dress by flashlight.”

    At her son’s middle school, power was intermittent, so he spent much of the day in the school cafeteria. She said a neighbor a few streets away had power back early in the day. She and Paul decided to go out to lunch that day. Their preferred taco restaurant had no power. But another did.

    “You’d go … to a shopping center and it was like a different city,” she said.

    Being prepared for a power outage is a good idea. Fortunately, we’ve got alternative power sources to help see you through the dark times.

    Weather.com also recommends people keep coolers and ice on hand to protect food. Keeping food surrounded by ice keeps it cold for longer.

    The Food and Drug Administration says to throw away any perishable food left at more than 40 degrees for more than two hours. Weather.com also recommends a digital, quick-response food thermometer to check the temperature of food before eating or cooking it.

    Kelli has called a roof repair company and is waiting for a reply. But there’s no letup in the weather ahead. Plano is under another flash flood watch.


    Disaster_Blog_Banner - Texas

  • You Don't Need to Worry About Hurricane Patricia Anymore...Right?

    Rubble - Salt Lake Tribune - Hurricane Patricia via Salt Lake Tribune

    Hurricane Patricia, the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the western hemisphere, quickly dissipated after it came ashore in western Mexico last Friday. Thanks to the rapid speed it traveled inland and where it landed – a mountainous, less-populous area – damage was far less than anticipated. Wind and water destroyed an estimated 3,500 buildings and crops like banana trees. But as of Sunday night, only six deaths had been reported.

    However, though Patricia is not even an organized storm, it’s not done yet. Its upper level winds and moisture combined with another storm system are still causing flooding and tornadoes thousands of miles away along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

    Hurricanes can produce major inland weather events. Three things to prepare for are flooding, wind, and power outages.

    Inland flooding is common with hurricanes. Ready.gov has some ideas about how to prepare a home for possible flooding.

    First, make physical preparation to the home.

    Clean the gutters and drains. Elevate utility systems like the furnace, water heater and electric panel if they’re in a place susceptible to flooding. Put “check valves” in sewer lines to keep floodwater from overflowing the pipes and causing a backup into the drains. Waterproof the basement. Have emergency building supplies on hand like plastic sheeting, plywood, tools, shovels and sandbags. If an area is susceptible to flooding, consider installing a sump pump (they’re becoming more common in new homes anyway) or elevating the building.

    Second, buy flood insurance. Regular insurance will usually cover precipitation from above and wind damage. It won’t cover water coming in from below.

    This year’s strong El Nino climate system prompted FEMA deputy associate administrator Roy Wright to suggest Californians invest in flood insurance, according to an Associated Press story. El Nino typically brings heavy winter rain to California. More than one-third of California flood insurance claims in the last 27 years came during four El Nino years.

    Make sure to buy it early. Flood insurance doesn’t take effect until 30 days after its purchase.

    Winds - BBC - Hurricane Patricia via BBC

    Preparing for wind is a multi-step process, according to the American Red Cross. The first step is to remove diseased and damaged limbs from trees to make them more wind resistant. This may be done throughout the year. Second, watch weather forecasts. If there is a high wind advisory, store or tie down outdoor furniture, decorations, trash cans and anything else that wind can turn into a projectile. Third, during the storm, close curtains or blinds. If windows do get broken, this will prevent shattered glass from scattering in the home.

    Wind storms can lead to power outages. When Hurricane Ike traveled north from the Gulf Coast in September 2008, its high winds caused more than 8 million people in the Midwest to lose power. It was one of the largest natural disaster-caused power outages in Midwest history.

    The Red Cross, ready.gov and the U.S. Department of Energy suggest ways to prepare for power outages.

    First, have a fully stocked emergency kit including food and water, a flashlight, batteries, cash in small bills and first aid supplies.

    Second, keep a cell phone and other battery-powered devices charged and have an alternative charging method.

    Third, keep the car’s gas tank full and know how to manually release an electric garage door opener. A vehicle can be a power source, but not in an enclosed space, unless carbon monoxide poisoning sounds like fun.

    Fourth, those who use a power-dependent or battery-operated medical device should have a backup power plan and tell their local utility so it can prioritize their home.

    Fifth, find out where to buy dry ice. Fifty pounds will keep a fully stocked fridge cold for two days. Without it, an unopened fridge will keep food cold for only about four hours. A half-full, unopened freezer will keep food cold for about 24 hours. Food in a packed, unopened freezer will stay cold for twice that long.

    Sixth, prepare for price increases. Hurricane Ike brought an “Ike Spike” in gas prices all the way into Canada.

    In July, former Hurricane Dolores caused record rainfall and flooding in southern California and Arizona. Yet the closest the center of the storm got to California was 300 miles west of Baja. At the time, it was just a post-tropical low-pressure center – too weak to even be considered a tropical storm. What was left of Dolores went on to cause flash flood watches in Nevada and farther inland. It just goes to show the value of preparing for a hurricane – even while living far away.


    Hurricane_Blog_Banner - Hurricane Patricia

  • Super Typhoon Lando Blasts Through the Philippines

    Being in the Philippines during a small, tropical storm was an unpleasant experience, to say the least. That was 10 years ago, and while we were without power for 10 days and running water for just a few, it was nothing compared to what the Philippines gets on a regular basis.

    This weekend, a super typhoon known locally as Lando (Lando System?) barreled its way through the Philippines, killing at least 16, injuring more, and displacing more than 60,000 people. The storm knocked over trees, homes, and power lines, causing power outages in nine provinces.

    Flooded Streets - WWNT Radio via WWNT Radio

    The streets in the Philippines are prone to flooding during short bursts of heavy rain. This storm system brought heavy rain for a long duration. Some homes were flooded up to the rooftops. Many people were in the middle of the harvest when the storm hit, so not only will rebuilding affect their homes, but their livelihoods as well. Flash flooding is feared for the Metro Manila area (which area has about 12 million people in an area the size of New York City).

    Many of the towns North of Manila that were hit by torrential rain were “lulled into complacency” because the storm had move up and away from them, and did not strike those areas with its full power. However, just because the typhoon didn’t hit those areas head on, the rain it produced from even the edges of the typhoon drenched many villages, bringing floods many feet deep.

    The Philippines is one of the most heavy-hit countries in the world when it comes to typhoons. They know very well what these kinds of storms can bring, and yet they still can become complacent. This complacency can be dangerous, especially considering the relative unpredictability of many natural disasters. Even the ones we can track, such as hurricanes, can shift without warning, or bring more rain than anticipated, such as Lando did in the Philippines.

    Sitting on Roof - BBC via BBC

    Being prepared with escape plans, food, water, and communication are all vitally important. But it’s also important to prepare with an expectation that things can go downhill fast. For the people in the Philippines, I admit it is much more difficult for them to prepare for such things than for us. The way their cities and towns are laid out, flooding is a constant problem, and there is almost no way to keep that flood water out of their home. The best they can do is brace for impact and hope for the best.

    Our infrastructure in the United States is better. Water can be soaked up by grass (lawns are virtually non-existent in the Philippines), and our drainage systems work pretty well. Of course, during any form of heavy rain, we may experience backed up drains and sewers. Bracing for storms involves gathering sandbags and other supplies that can help push back the floods.

    Filipinos don’t have that luxury. We do. And we need to make sure we’re using our resources in ways that will protect us. Waiting until the last minute to buy emergency food for an oncoming storm can leave you empty handed. This happens all the time. A storm comes, and grocery store shelves go bare. Finding backup power sources may be more difficult than you think if you wait too long. Water is the same way.

    While my heart goes out to those in the Philippines, my thoughts are also turned to us, here. We need to take the time to prepare before a storm comes our way. And remember, it could be more than just a super typhoon. Tornadoes, earthquakes, or even job loss or accidents could keep you from providing for yourself and your family.

    And so, while the Philippines works on rebuilding after the Lando System blew through, it is my hope that we can take this time to prepare before the next big event comes rushing towards us. And for everyone in the Philippines, I wish you luck and success in your recovery. Kaya ninyo!


    What do you do to prepare for disasters? Let us know in the comments!


    Click here for more information on hurricane preparedness

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