Did you see – you couldn’t miss it – the video over the weekend of a white jeep getting swept down a creek by a flash flood near Beorne, northwest of San Antonio? San Antonio TV says the guy in the jeep made it out OK, which is amazing.
In the Youtube video, while the guy is still stuck out on a low water dam, before he gets swept downstream, people are standing on the shore yelling at him to get out of the car. But I’m looking at the water going over that dam thinking if he gets out of the car he’s dead for sure.
I know from canoeing, the thing that will kill you faster than white water is anything with branches – trees or shrubs along the banks. They’re called “strainers.” The current pushes you into all that mess, and all of a sudden you’re getting beat up by a hundred baseball bats and held underwater at the same time.
So what do you do? I spent some time yesterday online trying to see what the wisdom is on surviving a flash flood. Somebody must hand out a list, because most of the sites I found had the same list of idiotic suggestions almost word for word.
Both The Farmer’s Almanac and The Denver Post tell you to be, “Be aware that flash flooding can occur.” So here I am, sitting in my SUV in the middle of a roaring creek about to get swept away to kingdom come, and I say to myself, “Well, Jim, as you know, flash flooding can occur.” I’m trying to see the helpfulness.
They also both tell you that if you are already in a tree or on top of a building, you should stay there and not jump into the flood water. I think that one’s going to be really easy to remember. I don’t see myself up there in the tree saying to myself, “Now which was it? Stay in the tree? Jump out of the tree?”
They tell you if your car is surrounded by water you should get out it and seek high ground. I think that amounts to, “Don’t be there.” Yes. Excellent idea, in theory.
Good Morning America, the TV show, says, “If you're caught in a flash flood, don't drive through or over a flooded road or bridge.” Here’s the thing on that. If I haven’t driven over a flooded road or bridge yet, I don’t think I’m caught in the flood. Yet. So I appreciate your telling me not to do it. Very sound. My question was more about what to do after. I already have. Done it. Do I sound ungrateful? Sorry.
I did find one really good source, and it’s from people who ought to know, right in the bull’s eye of Flash Flood Alley, the San Antonio Fire Department. They do have some of the same common sense things like telling people to go from low to high ground every little chance they get. They tell you to get out of a car that’s caught in high water, if you can, and get to solid ground.
But they’re the only people who answered my question – what if you’re that dude in the white Jeep on the dam in Boerne? What if stepping out and walking to shore is not an option?
They say: “If your car is swept into the water and submerged, DON'T PANIC! Stay calm and wait for the vehicle to fill with water. Once the vehicle is full, the doors will be able to open. Hold your breath and swim to the surface.”
So you want the car to fill with water. I don’t think I ever thought about that. But what if you have electric windows, and you don’t have one of those little window-breaker emergency tools? In the video, the guy’s headlights were still on for a long time after he got stuck out on the dam. So he still had juice. So presumably he could have lowered a couple windows before the car was totally inundated and the electricity doused.
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The San Antonio Fire Department also tells you what to do after you’re out of the car: “If you are swept into fast moving floodwater outside of your car, point your feet downstream. Always go over obstacles, never try to go under.”
As I read that, it made sense. Don’t go headfirst, because you don’t want your head to get whopped by a baseball bat or pushed under, and don’t go under anything if you can help it, because it may be a lot harder than you think to get back out from under.
The most agonizing story over the weekend for any of us, I am sure, was the vacation house swept off its foundation in Wimberly between Austin and San Antonio, with eight people including two children still missing as I write. Laura McComb, now missing, called her sister from the house and said, “We are in a house that is now floating down the river. Call Mom and Dad. I love you. And pray.”
When our kid was little, we used to go stay in this very ramshackle (cheap) resort on the Frio River 70 miles west of San Antonio. We loved it. I don’t remember once wondering if the place would be safe in a flash flood. Pictures of it over this last weekend are pretty scary. I guess if we had thought about it way back then, we might not have taken the kid and his little buddies there. What a wonderful chapter we would have missed.