When flash floods knock on your door, you better be prepared


Brooklynites brave the wind and rain on Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, during Tropical Storm Isaias, August 4, 2020. Photo by Peter Senzamici / THE CITY

This article was originally published on through THE CITY.

What would you do if you got caught in a flash flood? Over the past weekend, many parts of New York City got a first-hand glimpse as Henri soaked the Northeast.

As the consequences of global climate change become a daily reality at the local level, adverse weather events like flash floods are increasingly common in New York City, nearly a decade after Super Storm Sandy inundated much. from the city.

Experts give advice on what to do – and what not to do – in a weather crisis.

Should we panic?

Never panic, but it doesn’t hurt to have a good sense of caution.

As the name suggests, flash floods differ from regular floods in the speed with which they occur. Regular flooding can occur over a few days or even a few weeks, but flash floods are usually caused by heavy rains over a short period of time. Both types of flooding could become more frequent over the next decade as sea levels rise and the “sway” of the moon amplifies the impact of rising tides. Historic flooding in Europe last month killed nearly 200 people in Germany and Belgium.

According to a 2015 Climate Central research report, New York State experienced 34% more “heavy rain events”, while New York City experienced a much worse 350% increase in downpours. similar since the 1950s.


As for what counts as “heavy rain,” the American Meteorological Society defines it as more than 0.3 inches in an hour. New York City received nearly seven times that amount on July 8, according to a National Weather Service report.

Heavy rains have also flooded subways from central China to London in recent weeks. In the event that heavy rainfall causes flooding at a metro station, the wisest way is to avoid the train and go to higher ground, experts say.

Brighton Beach, Brooklyn is in a flood zone on July 22, 2021.
Photo by Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

How can we prepare?

Disaster preparedness experts and city officials have some advice.

“You have to be ready to rock and roll,” said Jason Charles, a firefighter who lives in Harlem and runs the New York City Preppers Network. “Everything you read [about disaster preparation] is at the best of times.

“Yes [something] hits New York, I hope it only hits Manhattan, then the Bronx and Queens and Brooklyn and Staten Island can fend for themselves, ”he said, proposing a hypothesis.

Heather Roiter, deputy commissioner in the city’s Emergency Management Office (OEM), stressed the importance of having a home emergency plan for a hurricane or flood – and knowing how to stay safe if the street in front of you suddenly looks like the Hudson River.

“Six inches of water can knock a person over. And one to two feet of moving water can wash away a vehicle, ”Roiter said.

His office provides an interactive workbook – in 13 languages ​​- for families looking to prepare for the worst.

The key elements of a home emergency plan are knowing where to go in an evacuation, how to find family and social network members if you live alone, and how you will communicate in an emergency.

There is also an element of old-fashioned common sense.

“If you don’t know the depth of the water but you have to go through it, find something like a stick or something to see how deep that water is so you don’t get into something that is too deep and that could knock you over, ”Roiter said.

When it comes to protecting your home and assets as a landlord or tenant, insurance is key.

But most homeowners ‘and renters’ insurance policies don’t include flood coverage, and in New York State, information about whether your home is in a flood plain can be easily hidden. Flood insurance can be purchased separately from an insurance agency, but there is a 30-day waiting period before it becomes effective.

“A standard home insurance policy generally does not cover damage caused by flooding, earthquakes or normal wear and tear,” Ellen Melchionni, president of the New York Insurance Association, said in an email to THE CITY. “An owner’s best bet for knowing exactly what is covered under their policy is to speak to their agent or company representative. “

Charles insisted on keeping a cool head. “Mental toughness is going to get you through this,” he said.

What are officials doing?

Disaster preparedness is not strictly an individual business. Mayor Bill de Blasio has made several calls in recent weeks for investments in infrastructure and the metro to avoid future flooding.

“When you watched this horrific flood, it was a symptom of something that has not been resolved for decades,” de Blasio told reporters on July 15. “I’m calling the state, the MTA: take the problem in hand, take the necessary measures, get these revenues, help us solve this problem.

Meanwhile, the Mayor’s Office for Climate Resilience released the State of Climate Knowledge report in April, which outlines the steps the city plans to take to prepare New York residents for the fallout from climate crises. .

“An underlying principle of this effort is two-way dialogue and learning from the experiences of New Yorkers in areas already affected by climate change,” said Jainey Bavishi, director of the office, in an e -mail to THE CITY.

As heavy rains and other dangerous weather events like hurricanes, heat waves, snowstorms or even tornadoes in the city increase in frequency, the OEM has encouraged people to sign up for emergency alerts. through its Notify NYC network to keep people up to date with extreme weather situations. . People can sign up by calling 311, following @notifynyc on Twitter, registering online, or downloading the Notify NYC app.

It is not clear whether Blasio’s administration’s approach to climate change and disaster preparedness will be passed on to the next municipal administration. Neither Eric Adams nor Curtis Sliwa’s campaigns returned requests for comment. However, Adams and Sliwa expressed on Twitter their dissatisfaction with the condition of the subways during the heavy rains last month.

Whoever the next mayor is, Charles of the New York City Preppers Network doesn’t see things getting any easier.

“The rain is super unpredictable,” he said. “Unfortunately, to move forward, we will have to face whatever comes.”

A practical checklist

Here are some ways to prepare for weather emergencies:

Know your area: In the event of a hurricane or other severe rainstorm, know which flood region your home is in.

Have an evacuation plan: know where the nearest evacuation center is.

Know the location of the nearest cooling center in the event of a heat wave.

Have a home emergency plan and share it with your family / friends / neighbors / social network.

Know what your insurance policy covers and what it does not.

Have a “take-out bag” for each person in your household. Travel bags should include: copies of vital documents (birth certificates, passports, marriage certificates, insurance policies, etc.), keys to your house and vehicle, flashlight, prescriptions, goggles, bottled water, first aid kit, change of clothes, non-perishable snacks, emergency contact information, chargers and / or batteries for vital electronics.

THE CITY is an independent, non-profit media dedicated to impactful reporting serving the people of New York City.

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