SOUTHERN UTAH – Flash floods can happen in the blink of eye – and possessing the knowledge to recognize warning signs and act quickly can mean the difference between drowning and walking out alive.
“Get everybody. Don’t try to save personal belongings or vehicles,” Deputy Darrell Cashin, Search and Rescue Commander with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, said.
A flash flood can happen with little or no warning and individuals may only have seconds to act before it’s too late.
“This is real,” Cashin said on Saturday morning after completing a rescue, “this stuff happens and it happened tonight.”
Cashin and 13 other members of his swiftwater and high angle ropes rescue teams rescued a family of 13 who barely escaped a flash flood at 1:30 a.m. Saturday but found themselves stranded across the swiftly moving waters of the Santa Clara River on a high point pressed against a wall in Crawdad Canyon at the Veyo Pool camping area in Veyo.
Read full story here: Swiftwater, high angle teams rescue 13 campers stranded by 1:30 a.m. flash flood in slot canyon
“If they can get to high ground, time is on their side,” Cashin said.
When individuals find themselves confronted or trapped by floodwaters, Cashin said there are key things they must do. The first step is to get to high ground as quickly as possible; don’t try to save personal belongings.
If a person is driving in rising water and their car stalls, the National Weather Service admonishes abandoning the vehicle immediately and getting to higher ground. Rapidly rising water can engulf the vehicle and sweep it and its occupants away.
In storm conditions, those camping, recreating or outdoors for any other reason should get out of flood areas quickly; this includes canyons, washes, dips and low areas. After getting to higher ground, it is important for individuals to remain where they are until either the waters have receded to a safe depth or rescue has arrived.
“Let it recede, let it pass,” Cashin said. “When you think it’s safe, wait an hour longer.”
Under no circumstances should individuals attempt to cross high floodwaters, Cashin said. Water up to a person’s knees or higher will down take even a strong individual.
“There are hydraulics that are going on that will pull them,” Cashin said. “There are strainers – anything water can move through that a person cannot. It will hold you there and it will drown you. You cannot take the risk of moving into swift-moving water.”
Wait until waters are below knee-level before ever attempting to cross, he said. When waters have receded sufficiently, stranded groups in need of assistance should send just one person – the biggest and strongest of the group – to cross the water and get help. Everyone else in the group should remain where they are.
If it is necessary for someone to cross the floodwaters and seek aid, the individual should face upriver into the current while crossing, Cashin said. They should find a stick that is at least as tall as they are – preferably at least 2 feet taller – and plant it upstream into the current, using it as a support, like the third leg of a tripod, as they cross. Using the stick for support, they should continue facing into the current and sidestep through the water – do not walk straight across the flood with the current rushing in from the side.
“Find another spot (for the stick), lean into it and sidestep,” Cashin said. “You work your way across the river that way.”
Waiting until the water has receded sufficiently before attempting to cross is very important.
“If it’s up above your waist, even (crossing then), it can sweep you off,” Cashin said.
If individuals or groups are OK where they are, they should remain on high ground and not attempt to get out while there are still flood conditions.
“Get to high ground, get a signal out,” Cashin added. “We will find them. We will get to them and we will get them out, so just stay put.”
St. George News Assistant Editor Cami Cox Jim contributed to this reporter.
Flash flood safety tips from the National Weather Service:
- When a flash flood warning is issued for your area or the moment you first realize that a flash flood is imminent, act quickly to save yourself. You may have only seconds.
- Get out of areas subject to flooding. This includes dips, low spots, canyons, washes, etc.
- Avoid already flooded and high velocity flow areas. Do not try to cross a flowing stream on foot where water is above your knees.
- If driving, know the depth of the water in a dip before crossing. The road bed may not be intact under the water.
- If the vehicle stalls, abandon it immediately and seek higher ground. Rapidly rising water may engulf the vehicle and its occupants and sweep them away.
- Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to recognize flood dangers.
- Do not camp or park your vehicle along streams and washes, particularly during threatening conditions.
- During any flood emergency, stay tuned to your NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)weather radio, commercial radio or television. Information from the National Weather Service and disaster and emergency services may save your life.
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