Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, was declared to be in a state of emergency in the wake of severe thunderstorms yesterday, after flash floods closed down city streets, highways, and the airport, and swept away at least one car. Milwaukee’s floodwaters also swept away two basements, turned the northside’s Nicolet High School into an indoor lake, and opened a sinkhole that swallowed an SUV and a traffic light. The water pressure in sewer lines blew manhole covers into the air all over the city, and tens of thousands of Milwaukeeans lost power. Air traffic controllers evacuated the tower at Mitchell Airport in response to one of seven tornadoes that swept through the area. The city is expecting more storms and flash floods over the next 36 hours.
Flagstaff, Arizona, is no better off — it too is in a state of emergency. Flash flood water tore through at least 80 homes there earlier this week, leaving behind mud and ash from the Schultz Fire that occurred in June.
Summer thunderstorm season has hit — with a vengeance. Severe storms, possible tornadoes, and more flash floods are predicted to hit the Milwaukee and Flagstaff areas again this evening, as well as Ann Arbor, Michigan and Des Moines, Iowa. St. Louis and Hannibal, Missouri are still recovering from flash flooding earlier this week. The Mississippi River is said to be at a “minor flood stage” in the St. Louis region. How can residents prepare for more storms and flooding?
Emergency Supplies Kit
For many people, the biggest danger in a thunderstorm is that they will be stranded somewhere, possibly without power. It’s important to have on hand, in your home (or in your car if you spend a lot of time driving), all the supplies that you may need if you are stranded for a day or two. If you have a special need, such as a disability, small children to care for, or a special dietary need, think ahead about any additional preparations that you may need to make in order to be prepared. If possible, put together a support network of friends and neighbors who can help you in an emergency.
- If possible, keep a small amount of cash or traveler’s checks in a safe place where you could reach them quickly. If flooding is a concern, you may want to store your emergency money in a watertight container, such as a ziplock bag.
- Make sure that you have any extra supplies that you need for special needs, such as medication, batteries for wheelchairs, oxygen, or any other items you might need.
- Have a pet carrier and leash on hand for pets, if you anticipate needing to evacuate your home.
- Ideally, try to have enough food, water, and other supplies (such as toilet paper, sanitary products, diapers, etc.) on hand at home to last for three days.
- Keep a first aid kit on hand at home or anywhere else where you think you might be stranded.
- In your car, keep a few basic emergency supplies, such as food, water, a first aid kit, a blanket, and, if you have them, flares and jumper cables.
- In case of a power outage, include a portable, battery-operated or wind up radio or television, extra batteries, flashlights, matches, and candles in your emergency supply kit.
- In case of an emergency evacuation, pack your emergency supplies into an easily carried bag, such as a duffel bag or a backpack. If possible, use a waterproof bag, or pack items in plastic ziplock bags before putting them in your duffel or pack.
- Check your emergency supplies every few months, and replace any food items that have expired and are no longer good.
During a Flood
If you do not have to travel anywhere during a severe thunderstorm or flash flood warning, stay put. Road conditions can change rapidly during a storm.
- Listen to weather reports if possible, to alert you to flooded areas or tornadoes that may be spotted.
- Don’t drive into areas where water covers a roadway. The water may be deeper than it looks, and you and the car could be quickly swept away. Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most cars, and may cause your car to stall. A foot of water will cause a car to float, and two feet of rushing water will carry a car away, even if it is an SUV or a pick-up.
- Don’t try to walk through moving water. It only takes six inches of moving water to cause the average adult to fall. If you must walk in water, use a stick to check the ground in front of you before walking ahead.
- If you must evacuate, do not return home until authorities report that it is safe.
During a Tornado
If you are under a tornado watch, be alert — listen to weather reports, and pay attention to changing weather conditions. Watch for danger signs such as a dark, greenish sky; large hail; a large, dark cloud that seems low to the ground (especially if any part of the cloud seems to be rotating); or a loud roar that sounds like a freight train.
If you are under a tornado warning, a tornado has been spotted — take shelter immediately in a basement or storm cellar (assuming they are not flooded), or in an interior room with no windows, on the lowest level of the building. If you are outside, find a low, flat location, and lie down — do not take shelter under an overpass or bridge, or in a car or truck.
Preparing for the Disaster Recovery
After a disaster, it is important to be prepared to put the pieces back together, by filing claims with insurance companies or with FEMA. To prepare for this project, keep important documents, such as the items listed below, in a safety deposit box or in another safe, secure storage location. Make copies of the documents to put in your disaster supplies kit.
- Copies of your insurance policies (if you live in a flood-prone area, FEMA recommends adding flood insurance to your ordinary homeowner’s or renter’s insurance coverage).
- An inventory of your personal property, for insurance purposes, along with photos or video of items, and photos or video of the interior and exterior of your home.
- Photocopies of all the cards, including credit cards and identification cards, that you carry in your wallet (so that you can easily report them as lost if you lose your wallet in a flood). Be sure to copy both sides of each card.
Bowen, Jennifer. “Mississippi River is at minor flood stage following Wednesday’s downpour.” News-Democrat at BND.com. July 22, 2010.
Durhams, Sharif. “Doyle declares state of emergency for flooding.” The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. July 23, 2010.