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A car caught in a flash flood?  Here’s what to do

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Recent deadly flooding in Kentucky has drawn attention to the dangers of rapidly rising waters, which may be of particular concern to motorists.

Whether near riverbeds or in dry deserts hit by storms, roads can quickly flood and leave drivers little time to react.

While the National Weather Service’s “Turn Around Don’t Drown” campaign advises drivers to avoid crossing standing water at all times, it is possible to find water rushing towards a vehicle and leaving nowhere where to turn to safety.

As little as a foot of running water can wash a car away, and severe flooding can sweep vehicles into deeper areas and completely underwater.

The Kentucky River in Jackson, Ky. overflowed on July 28 and flooded surrounding roads.
(LEANDRO LOZADA/AFP via Getty Images)

Dozens of Americans die each year in this scenario, and in Australia, which has many areas susceptible to flash floods, the local car safety rating body plans to add an assessment to determine how long systems such as the power windows remain operational when the vehicle is submerged.


Mike Berna is Regional Manager and Instructor for the group Rescue 3 International, which provides training for emergency services. He shared several simple survival steps with Fox News Autos that drivers should keep in mind when they find themselves in a flooded area.

A car caught in a flash flood?  Here’s what to do

Vehicles as large as trucks can be swept away by rapid floodwaters.
(Arden S. Barnes/For The Washington Post via Getty Images))

Berna said never drive through water that’s more than halfway up your tires, no matter what kind of vehicle you’re in. It’s deep enough for it to float and be swept away.


“First, you should unbuckle your seat belt in case the vehicle rolls over,” he said, “but don’t get out of the vehicle immediately because your chances of surviving a quick flood are reduced when you float in the water unprotected.” It’s better to open a window before the power goes out, rather than roll it up completely, which will help keep water out of the cabin while making the glass easier to break, if necessary.

A car caught in a flash flood?  Here’s what to do

First responders in Apache Junction, Ariz., rescued a driver from a car caught in a flood on July 28.
(Apache Junction Police Department)

However, once the vehicle starts filling up with water, it’s time to start thinking about getting out and getting on the roof, rather than swimming. This will protect you better and make it easier for rescuers to spot you than if you were dangling in the water alone, he said.

You will now have to lower the window or break it by hitting a bottom corner with something hard. A small window hammer tool is good to keep in a vehicle if you live in an area prone to flooding, but you can also remove the front seat headrest and use the posts to break glass.

A car caught in a flash flood?  Here’s what to do

A window hammer has a sharp metal tip designed to break glass.
(Jules Annan/Avalon/Getty Images)

After that, Berna said to pull the seat belt to use as a handle in case you slipped, then use the seat, armrest and window sill as steps to access the roof.

If you slip at this point, or the vehicle becomes completely submerged, he said to swim to the nearest high ground or grab onto something sturdy that won’t move in the water.


Berna’s best advice, however, is to keep track of emergency warnings in case of a rainy weather emergency and act on them immediately.

“Evacuate the area as soon as possible,” he said. “Once the floods start, it may be too late.”


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