Before to the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 that resulted in the deaths of more than 230,000 people in 14 bordering countries, many people knew very little about this phenomenon, especially in the Western Hemisphere.
A series of waves caused by the displacement of a large volume of water, a tsunami’s impact is limited to coastal areas, but the resulting flooding can have enormous destructive power. Although they have nothing to do with tides, tsunamis are more likely to look like a rising tide as they roll toward shore than they are a typical wave. Scientists still have much to learn about tsunamis, including why some smaller ocean earthquakes can cause larger tsunamis than some larger ocean earthquakes.
We in North America rarely encounter tsunamis, but most of us are familiar with flooding problems. Included in U.S. flooding history have been the Johnstown Flood of 1889 that killed 2,200 in Pennsylvania, the Mississippi River Flood of 1927 that resulted in 246 deaths across 10 states and the Ohio River Flood in 1937 that killed 385 in six states.
Fortunately, more recent flooding in the U.S. has resulted in far fewer deaths, but it has still caused significant damage to homes, businesses, sewage systems, roadways, bridges and crops, and has produced widespread power outages.
Having an emergency response plan in place in the event of a tsunami or flooding is important. Your 72-hour survival kit and bug-out bags should be prepared in advance, and your important documents should be organized.
Preparation is the key. Following are 4 things you can do before flooding or a tsunami occurs in order to be better prepared:
- Visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood map site to discover whether you are in a flood plain and where the nearest high ground is located.
- If you are a property owner, especially in an area prone to flooding, make sure you have sufficient flood insurance.
- Make sure you have an emergency radio that tunes into reports from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Asministration.
- Practice your escape plan with your family. Going through the motions now will help when the time comes for the real thing.
If flooding has already started or a tsunami seems to be on the way, here are 4 steps you can take to protect yourself and your family:
- Because you may need to move to higher ground on short notice, tune into emergency radio and be ready to move quickly.
- If you’re driving and you see standing water ahead, stop. Six inches of water is enough to stall out most cars, and it may be deeper than it appears. Same thing if you’re on foot. Fast moving water can carry people off. Stay away from streams, sewer drains and drainage canals.
- Know the difference between a flood warning and a flood watch. If the situation appears to be worsening, stop what you’re doing and get to higher ground right away.
- If there is time to evacuate your home, turn off all of your valves, unplug appliances and move your most expensive items to the highest possible point of your home.
Following the flood or tsunami threat, take the following 4 actions, keeping in mind that the threat may only seem to be over:
- Don’t walk into any standing water. There could be objects in the water that you can’t see, including electrical wires.
- Continue to listen to emergency radio. You may be informed of a secondary threat of which you were not aware.
- Keep your eyes focused on potential hazards, including broken glass, downed power lines, ruptured gas lines and damaged structures. And keep in mind that standing floodwater could be contaminated by gas, oil, sewage or chemicals.
- Remain away from the area until city authorities declare that it is safe to return.