How High is High Enough?

Terrible creatures – floods! They are so unpredictable. There is no way that the usual law of “Practice makes Perfect” applies, for there are simply too many variables.

I remember my first introduction very vividly, as it was a bit extreme – just getting dark as the water started to rise, and three hours later it was 8 feet deep! My companions, fortunately, were relatively well-versed in the art of flood survival, thank goodness, and I followed their lead. But that was a bad one, and we ended up on the roof for a couple of days until we were able to get back into the house again.

The next one was a mere bagatelle by comparison – only about 3 1/2 feet – but this one arrived in the middle of the night, when we were fast asleep, and had no time to prepare before it arrived. By the time everyone had finished scrambling, people were wading through waist-deep water to pass items up the stairs to safety. The next morning I counted about 40 refugees – sleeping space was at a premium!

The most recent one, which we are currently recovering from, started out very easily. It was still morning when we could see that the local river had overflowed its banks, and we were going to get soaked again. There was ample time to get everything put up high above the flood level, and then retire upstairs to safety. I had already checked the tide tables, nothing to worry about there. In theory, this should have been one of the easiest floods to handle so far, but Fate had other plans, of course.

The rain had not stopped for days. It varied in intensity from heavy to torrential, and back again, but was absolutely relentless. We could watch the water level as it quickly rose to the previous high-water mark, and crept past it. Then we had a stroke of good luck; a wall at the side of the garden broke – outwards, and water poured through it in a torrent. It was very much like pulling the plug out of the bath at that point, for the water level began to drop almost visibly. Ah, I thought, just what we needed. A big hole to drain the water away fast!

Unfortunately, draining the water away fast was being done only on the inside of the garden wall. The outside was still being subjected to a much higher water level, as a result of which – yes, you guessed it – a part of the wall at the back of the garden collapsed – but inward! The effect was like a powerful horizontal fountain – water surged in through the new gap, more than compensating for the drain hole at the side – and the water rose again! The final flood level was at least 1 foot higher than the previous one, which meant that my preparations had not been completely adequate, and many items had been flooded that I would much preferred to have kept dry. This unfortunately included my computer keyboard, which required two clean-up attempts before it finally deigned to grudgingly oblige.

For people living in single-story accommodation, it may be necessary to evacuate, or in extreme cases, move onto the roof temporarily. In any case, one of the first essentials will be drinking water, and the next will be food. Roof-top survivors will have to forget about sanitation – there are far more important things to worry about;- how to keep dry, how to sleep without falling off, how to cook, etc.

To avoid structural damage to property, water levels inside buildings should be as near as possible equal to those outside. Sudden surges in water pressure, caused by a breaking garden wall, for example, should be avoided if at all possible.

This won’t be the last flood I experience, of that I am certain. I am also certain that I need to take a completely different approach to floods to stand any chance of remaining dry when the next one occurs. I see that there is no way of reliably predicting the depth of water that will be generated, especially when living in an area affected by tides, and so the best solution has to be one that is independent of water level – ie. a boat! However, unlike a boat on the sea, the anchor must be absolutely reliable. The power behind flood water on the move has to be experienced to be believed, and it really is not to be trifled with.

PS. Anything made out of chipboard, or other forms of compressed wood fibre, will not survive a flood. Unless you have a use for wood-chip soup, I would avoid them like the plague!

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