3 life-saving tactics to use if in a car during a flash flood

Most cars can be swept away by just 12 inches of fast moving flood water.

October 01, 2019, 7:47 AM

Flash floods can quickly go from dangerous to deadly, and it's vital to understand the best safety practices to evade and escape your worst water nightmare.

ABC News' Matt Gutman went to Adventure Sports Center International in Maryland to do a live demonstration where experts shared step-by-step life saving tactics, paramount to staying safe if a driver gets caught in a flash flood or a dangerous storm.

On average, 94 people in the U.S. die every year in flood waters, according to the National Weather Service, and nearly half of those deaths occur in vehicles trying to cross submerged roads.

Although a flooded road may look passable on the surface, Michael Berna, an instructor and trainer with Rescue 3 International told ABC News that due to unseen dips, "you can't tell the depth" of the stagnant water "until it's too late."

PHOTO: Cars are flooded, Sept. 19, 2019, in Houston, Texas.
Cars are flooded, Sept. 19, 2019, in Houston, Texas.
Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

Severity of 6-inch high flood water

It takes a mere 6 inches of swift moving water to knock a person off their feet.

In cars, that water can be sucked into the tailpipe, which can cause an engine to stall out.

Severity of 12-inch high flood water

Water can carry away most vehicles once fast moving water reaches 1 foot deep.

"I don't think people value the power of the water," Berna emphasized. "No vehicle is flood-proof. Once the water gets halfway up the tires of the car, SUV, or firetruck, it's prone to be swept away."

3 things to survive a flash flood in a car

1. Don't let the car fill up before getting out

PHOTO: ABC News' chief national correspondent Matt Gutman demonstrates how to safely escape a car during a flash flood.
ABC News' chief national correspondent Matt Gutman demonstrates how to safely escape a car during a flash flood.
ABC News

The first step is to take off your seat belt and roll the window down as quickly as possible. Because most cars' electric system would eventually fail, it's vital to get it down before that happens. Also, don't touch your phone until you're out of the car.

When the water rushes in like this, experts say you want to get out of the car as quickly as you can because the car can potentially flip upside down.

Within three minutes, the car Gutman was in for the demonstration had already risen from his feet up to his hips.

2. Get to the roof

PHOTO: ABC News' chief national correspondent Matt Gutman demonstrates on Oct. 1, 2019, how to safely escape a car during a flash flood.
ABC News' chief national correspondent Matt Gutman demonstrates on Oct. 1, 2019, how to safely escape a car during a flash flood.
ABC News

Once the windows are down, make sure to use the tools your car gives you, such as the seat-belt, which can be used as a safety line for support.

After you've made it onto the roof, call 911 for help and stay put as long as possible, because it's much easier be spotted by rescuers on the roof than in the rapids.

People often get knocked off their cars into the water, so if you were to get swept away, practice defensive swimming, which Gutman immediately did. It entails keeping your feet up to avoid getting stuck or pulled under and also to conserve energy.

Once a person is close enough to shore or an area where the water calms, experts suggest offensive swimming, which means swimming as fast as possible to get to safety.

3. Turn around don't drown

Most importantly, Berna wants you to remember the rule of thumb.

"If you're approaching a flood at roadway, remember it's not worth it," Berna said. "Turn around, don't drown."

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