Driving into flood water: the worse mistake drivers make –
By Patricia Beech –
The torrential rains that triggered flash flooding across Adams County last week led to a dramatic water rescue when a young woman became trapped in her automobile after driving into high water on Winchester-Russellville Road.
Peebles resident, Brian Seaman said he was driving to his job at the Russellville Elementary School on Tuesday, May 22 when he spotted a man “standing in the middle of the road” frantically waving his arms.
“Up ahead, I could see a vehicle trapped in the high water that came out of the West Fork Eagle Creek banks and onto the road,” he said. “The gentleman in the road explained that he was following the vehicle and slowed down when he noticed the water on the road. Unfortunately, the driver in front of him did not stop, and drove into the flooded roadway.”
The man had called 911. He told Seaman the water had risen six inches in five minutes, and he was uncertain how many people were in the stalled car.
A retired United States Coast Guard veteran with 30 years of water-rescue experience under his belt, Seaman could see that the situation was becoming critical. He quickly devised a rescue plan.
Tying a rope around his own waist, he gave the other end to the man who was first on the scene and instructed him to walk parallel to the road along a nearby tree line where he could quickly anchor Seaman if he lost his footing in the debris-filled flood water racing across the road.
With West Fork Eagle Creek raging to their right, the two good Samaritans waded into the rapidly rising water and began making their way toward the trapped car.
Moving slowly to maintain his footing against the force of the knee-high water, Seaman finally reached the car and found a worried young woman sitting in the driver’s seat talking on her phone.
“I asked her if she was all right, and she said she was. She asked if I could push her car out of the water,” Seaman said. “I had to smile, I told her no and that she needed to get out of the car.”
But the woman hesitated, not wanting to abandon her car.
With the water now halfway up the driver’s side door and rising, Seaman attempted to explain just how dire her situation was.
“I told her I understood she didn’t want to leave her car, but that it was important and that she had to get out before the water carried her car into the maelstrom of West Fork Eagle Creek,” he said. “The fellow standing in the trees also explained to her how much the water had risen in just 10 minutes.”
Eventually the two men convinced her.
Seaman helped her climb out the driver’s window and the group made their way to safety on the Winchester side of the roadway.
Seaman says he knows the outcome could have been much different.
“Many years ago, a friend of mine, Debbie Anderson, lost her life when her vehicle became trapped in floodwaters, so I realized that I was taking a big chance going into the water to help that young lady,” he said. “But, I and the other fellow took precautions to help minimize the dangers.”
Flash flooding is the leading cause of weather-related fatalities in the U.S. resulting in approximately 200 deaths per year. Over 50% of those flood-related drownings are vehicle-related.
The National Severe Storms Laboratory has designated flash floods “the most dangerous kind of floods, combining the destructive power of water with incredible speed and unpredictability – they can happen with little or no warning.”
According to Dr. Greg Forbes, severe weather expert for The Weather Channel, flood water flowing at just six mph exerts the same force per unit area as air blowing at EF5 tornado wind speeds, and flood water moving at 25 mph has the pressure equivalent of wind blowing at 790 mph.
Forbes says the single worst decision a driver can make in a flash flood is to drive a vehicle into floodwaters of unknown depth.
“It’s easy to misjudge the depth of floodwater, particularly at night,” he says. “Sometimes the bridge or road masked by flood water may have been undermined or completely washed out.”
According to FEMA just six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars, potentially causing the vehicles to stall; a foot of water will float many vehicles, while two feet of rushing water will carry away most vehicles, including SUVs and pickups.
Most flood fatalities happen when people try to drive through water rather than avoid it. Once a vehicle begins floating in high water, the driver no longer has control. If the water is moving, the vehicle could flip onto its side or top and rising water can enter the vehicle in just a matter of minutes, or even seconds.
Drivers who inadvertently drive into flood water need to act quickly.
According to AAA, if a vehicle stalls and won’t restart in rising water, the driver should immediately abandon it for higher ground by opening the door or rolling down the window to get out of the vehicle. A driver unable to get out safely should call 911 or get the attention of a passerby or someone standing on higher ground so that they may call for help.
While both Seaman and his fellow good-Samaritan took precautions to protect themselves from potential dangers during their rescue operation, he says such situations should be approached carefully.
“We all do what we can to help others,” he says. “But I would never encourage anyone to take a chance in flood waters.”