Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Flooding and Emergency Planning - Bellingham style

* Update at 4:23 pm

I want to thank the two city employees who worked tirelessly today to assist Silver Beach residents along the lake.

They brought signs, sandbags, and helped families who already have serious damage prepare a layer of defense for the storm that is forecasted for tonight.

The neighbors turned out and we have clean ditches and repaired culverts. Most of us exchanged names and telephone numbers so we can respond quickly in the event of another flash flood.

We have some pretty amazing city employees!

Thank you!
Some communities, especially those that live near the Nooksack River, have considerable experience with flooding. Other communities do not.

The communities that have experience with flooding can respond immediately to flood hazards. They have emergency management plans to assist them in a flood event.

Last night, many parts of Bellingham experienced significant flooding. My son described scenes of storm water drains spouting like geysers and numerous flooded streets when he returned home from work.

Closer to home, parts of North Shore Drive experienced serious flooding from urban streams and stormwater runoff.

In our neighborhood, one home appears to have sustained serious structural damage and many others have erosion or other forms of water damage to their property.

The source of the flooding in our neighborhood was the Academy Road stormwater catch basin. In a matter of hours, it became a boiling cauldron of water that breached its banks and flooded an entire city block. It's head waters are the ditches along Toad Lake and Academy Roads.

One block north, Silver Beach Creek, another boiling cauldron, flooded the roads and neighborhoods in and around the S curves of North Shore Drive. It is impossible for any of us to estimate how much sediment was transported into the lake from the flooding.

We called the city, but there was no one that could help us. I find that somewhat ironic, since last year the Silver Beach Neighborhood Association applied for a simple community grant to draft an emergency management plan to deal with natural and man made disasters.

Unfortunately, that grant application was turned down by Mayor Pike.

Last night, those of us who live along North Shore discovered that we are the first responders during a flash flood emergency.

So, without further ado, here's what individuals can do to protect life and property. (Info courtesy of the City of New Orleans flood preparation website).

Be prepared. If danger of flooding exists, be prepared to move to a place of safety. This is especially true if you live close or below an urban stream or stormwater catch basin.

Know your evacuation routes:
Keep your automobile fueled.

Store drinking water:
Water service may be interrupted, or your water source contaminated.

Be Prepared:
Secure flammables and toxic chemicals in a dry, secure place above the reach of flood waters. Make sure containers are sealed tight. Have sandbags on the property if there is a chance you will need them.

Be Informed:
Keep a NOAA Weather Radio, a battery-powered portable radio, emergency cooking equipment, and flashlights in working order.

Day of the Flood:
WHAT TO LISTEN FOR: Radio or TV warnings of Flash floods or flooding events.

But don't be overly dependent on warnings. As we learned last night, a flash flood can occur without warning. We didn't know that we were in danger until we heard and saw the water rushing across North Shore Drive and low lying property.

Take necessary precautions at once. If you need to evacuate, do so immediately.

Urban and Small Streams can become deadly within a short period of time.

Flooding of ditches, streets, and low-lying areas, such as underpasses and urban storm drains can cause significant damage to roads, preventing escape.

The rule for being safe in a flooding situation is simple: HEAD FOR HIGHER GROUND AND STAY AWAY FROM FLOOD WATER.

Be alert to the signs of flash flooding and be prepared to evacuate at a moment's notice. The moment you realize that a flash flood is imminent, act quickly to save yourself.

Take the time to check on your neighbors. If they are asleep. Wake them up. If they are disabled, elderly or alone, make sure they are in a safe location.

Avoid already flooded and high velocity flow areas. Do not attempt to cross flowing streams or ditches.

If driving, be aware that the road bed may not be intact under flood waters. If you encounter water running over the road, turn around and go another way. NEVER drive through flooded roadways. If your vehicle stalls, leave it immediately and seek higher ground. Rapidly rising water may engulf your vehicle and its occupants and sweep them away.

Remember, it's better to be wet than dead! Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to recognize flood dangers.

Use flashlights, not lanterns, torches, or matches, to examine buildings. Last night, we found flammables tipped over inside a structure. An open flame may have started a fire.

Report chemical spills and broken utility lines to appropriate authorities.

After the damage:
Contact your insurance agent. Take photos or videotape of your home and belongings. Separate damaged and undamaged belongings. Locate your financial records. Keep detailed records of cleanup cost.

Preventing future damage:
Call your city and county legislators and ask them to address flooding issues in your area. Someone shouldn't have to die or lose a house to force the city or county to protect property owners from damage.

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