- Are you and your family prepared for disasters and extreme weather conditions?
Compiled by Annalise Kempen
Photo courtesy of Rescue SA
June 2017: Knysna and its surrounding areas - devastating fires.
August 2017: Houston, Texas - extreme floods.
Disasters don’t discriminate - they can happen at any time and any place and often when we least expect them. And worst of all, apart from the possibility of losing all our material possessions in the blink of an eye, we might have to bid a loved one goodbye in the process. The question to answer is whether there is anything that we can do to be better prepared for disasters.
There is a general principle that the likelihood of recovering from an emergency/disaster in future, depends on the planning and preparation we do today (Disaster management, Cape Town, Nd). Although the details may differ depending on the type of disaster, ie a wind storm versus a devastating fire, the principles of preparation remain similar.
Types of disasters
A disaster is defined as “a sudden accident or a natural catastrophe that causes great damage or loss of life” and “an event or fact that has unfortunate consequences” (English Oxford Living Dictionaries). In a booklet entitled Multi hazard awareness, the Department of Cooperative Governance, the National Disaster Management Centre and the South African Weather Service combined efforts to provide valuable information regarding various hazards that could cause destruction in the South African context. Although they might not lead to or be defined as disasters per se in terms of their extent, those who have been affected might suffer great damage to or loss of material possessions, or even risk life and limb. The following information about hazards has been extracted and adapted from the Multi hazard awareness booklet.
Floods happen when a large amount of water overflows beyond its normal limits, especially over what is normally dry land (English Oxford Living Dictionaries). Flooding can also refer to excessive water run-off or the rise in water levels in a particular area which is more than the particular environment can absorb or carry. It can happen along rivers; when tropical storms drive ocean water inland and cause significant flooding; in urban areas when urban developments (eg parking lots) cannot absorb natural rainfall and flash floods when an excessive amount of rain falls or a massive amount of water is suddenly released.
How to reduce the risk of flooding
- Don’t build your house or dwelling on high-risk areas such as riverbeds and floodplains. Obey municipal rules and bylaws relating to building.
What should one do if flooding is imminent?
- Listen for warnings on television and local radio stations. Local radio broadcasters are often in a better position to give details about a region than a national broadcaster as they are in constant contact with local emergency services and authorities and the Weather Service.
- Move pets, vehicles, valuables and other items to safety.
- Alert your neighbours, particularly the elderly, people in female- and child-headed households and people with special needs.
- Be ready to turn off electricity and gas (get help if needed); unplug electrical items and move them to a higher place such as an upper floor or put them on cupboards if possible.
- Cooperate with emergency services and local authorities as communities may be evacuated to a central assembly point.
- Never try to swim through fast flowing water - you may get swept away or be struck by an object in the water.
- Don’t walk along riverbanks or the promenade, or cross river bridges during flooding - they may collapse in extreme situations or you may be swept off your feet by large waves.
- Avoid contact with floodwater as it may be contaminated with sewage.
What should you do if you are on the road?
- Never attempt to cross a flooded river with or without a vehicle.
- Never drive over a bridge when the bridge is submerged under water.
- Avoid an open or partially closed storm water drainage system.
How can you safeguard yourself and your family?
- Irrespective of the type of flood, head for higher ground and stay away from flood waters.
- If you come across flood waters, turn around and get to higher ground.
- Never try to walk, swim, drive or play in flood water.
- If you are in a vehicle and become surrounded by water and you can get out safely, do so immediately and move to higher ground.