Keeping Your Head Above Floodwaters

Since Tuesday, dozens of people in the Dallas suburb of Mesquite have joined in the search for 14-year-old Shaun Hebert.

Officers and volunteers have sifted through thick brush and scoured drainage tunnels on their hands and knees, feeling underneath water and debris. It's a search that has now been deemed a recovery effort.

Shaun, a ninth-grader who played French horn in his high school band, was swept away by rushing floodwaters Tuesday as he and his best friend Joel Wilson, 15, were walking together near a swollen creek.

It was spring break and the boys -- who were often seen around the neighborhood throwing baseballs and riding their bikes -- were not in school.

"I jumped in after him to try to get him, but I couldn't," Wilson told the Dallas Morning News. "Once he got sucked in, he tried to grab the ledge, but it just swept him away."

The floodwaters that have swallowed up neighborhood after neighborhood across the nation's midsection this week have killed at least 15 people, including a woman who was swept away in her car near the Ohio city of Wilmington.

The floods have also been blamed for the deaths of at least five motorists in Kentucky.

Experts familiar with a flood's deadly potential say even a few inches of seemingly tranquil water can kill.

"In just six inches of water, your car can become buoyant," said Trooper Betsy Randolph of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, a 15-year veteran of law enforcement. "And in a foot or two of water, most cars will float, even SUVs and pickups."

Randolph says it's imperative to avoid driving or walking through floodwaters. "Turn around, don't drown" has become a common refrain among law enforcement.

But if your vehicle becomes stalled in moving or rushing water, Randolph suggests immediately unlocking your doors and rolling down your power windows, even if it's raining. That way, if your electrical system shorts out and water pressure pushes on the doors, you'll have an avenue of escape.

And if the water is pushing your vehicle, it's important to get away from it as quickly as possible.

"You have a more likely chance of being buoyant alone outside of the vehicle than you do if you're tied up within it," Randolph said. "And you could be crushed between the car and whatever it's going to be moving against, whether it be trees, houses, other cars."

In case you have to break the windows, Randolph suggests keeping in your vehicle a hammerlike tool that can be purchased at any hardware store. It often comes with a cutting tool that can be used to free yourself from a seat belt.

If you make it to higher ground, Randolph recommends staying put and waiting for rescuers or for the water to recede rather than chancing another risky crossing through a torrent.

In the last 30 years, floods have killed more people than hurricanes, tornadoes and lightning strikes combined, and many of those flood deaths have been preventable.

Randolph has personally searched for the bodies of people who drowned after they foolishly chose to play in the murky waters. Many of those victims were considered strong swimmers. One was even a lifeguard.

"The current was powerful, and they were getting stuck by trees that they couldn't see in the water," Randolph said . "If moving water is pushing you along, especially without a life preserver, your chances of survival are very slim."