It was a beautiful rainy evening in November 2015 and as my roommates and I looked out of the hostel window to admire the view, little did we know that in just a matter of two weeks Chennai would be seeing one of the most devastating calamities it has experienced in a 100 years. The Chennai floods resulted in 500 deaths and the displacement of over 18 lakh citizens. But my experience with the floods didn’t end there. In August 2018, I witnessed my home in Ayroor, Pathanamthitta, flood upto the first floor due to the Kerala floods.
The damage to the house and the surroundings was truly heart-wrenching but today my home stands tall as a symbol of resilience and strength.
From my experience with the floods, here are some of the most important lessons I’ve learnt about flood-safety and the precautionary measures we must take while anticipating a flood or any similar natural disaster.
Before a Flood
Documents: Before the flood hits, one of the most important things to keep in mind is to keep all important documents organised in a briefcase or a waterproof bag. At the time of the flooding, it is best to carry these documents along with you.
Valuables: Besides documents, valuables like money must be deposited in banks and jewellery must be moved to the bank’s locker in waterproof bags.
Books & Photos: One of the biggest consequences I’ve had to face due to the floods was the damage done to old photos and books. Once they are damaged, it is difficult to recover these priceless possessions so its best to move them to an elevated area beforehand. Keeping your photos stored online is also a good step to take in case of any damage done to the hard copies.
Waterproofing Wooden Furniture: To save your wooden furniture from damage, you could use a sealant to paint over the wood so that it can endure the damage from water.
Electronics: All electronic devices including the television, laptops, kitchen appliances must be moved to an elevated area. If your house has a second floor, such devices must be moved there otherwise place them on elevated tables and try keeping them plastic bags.
Clothes & Carpets: It is advisable to move all clothes, bedsheets, carpets and shoes to an elevated surface because once fabric gets drenched in water, it is one of the hardest things to recover because it will require an entire disinfection process to remove the debris, mildew and mould it acquires.
72 Hour Emergency Kit: This emergency kit can be kept ready well in advance of the flood. This kit must contain a 3-day emergency supply of ready to eat food like snack bars, dry fruits, important medicines and a supply of clean drinking water for the entire family. The kit must also include a flashlight along with batteries, fully charged portable chargers, a pair of dry full-length clothes, an emergency radio, cash and a hygiene kit that should include sanitary pads, soaps, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
Keep Your Contacts Ready: An important step to remember is to write down the names and the numbers of your emergency contacts and helpline numbers in a book that you must keep in your emergency kit.
Charge Batteries: It is important to have a set of new reusable batteries in your emergency kit and always remember to keep your phone batteries charged at all times in case of a complete power failure in your area.
Post Flood Care
Once, the flood has settled, there are a few things to keep in mind before entering the house. If you are required to walk through a flooded area, remember to use a long stick to find your way. This will keep you safe from the possible potholes that may have formed. Ensure that the electrical connections are intact before turning on any switches.
Safety Measures: Before entering the flood-affected house, it is important to keep yourself safe. Wear a hard hat, gumboots, gloves and masks along with full-length clothes to protect yourself from harmful leaked gases, reptiles, insects and unexpected damage done to the house.
Mark The Damage: This is often an overlooked area, but it is important to mark the level of water that rose at the floods. This will give you an indication of how much of the house was affected and what to look out for in the future. Taking pictures of the damage especially of appliances and vehicles is also useful when claiming for insurance.
But the most important lesson of all is to stay vigilant. When you see the water levels rising, it’s crucial to act on it and evacuate the house and contact disaster management helpline numbers immediately.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)