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Red River Rising: How to Survive the Floods of 2009

Posted: 03/26/09 09:45 PM ET

In El Dorado, Kansas earlier this month, a 15-year-old girl on her way home from high school lost control of her Honda Accord and crashed into a drainage ditch. Bayleigh Stovall hydroplaned on pooled water that had collected on Main Street during a downpour. Bayleigh managed to call a friend who then dialed 911. "The last thing I heard from her is gurgling," the friend told the emergency dispatcher. "She can't get out of her car. It's through her window."

Rescuers took around 50 minutes to find Bayleigh but it was too late. Rushing water had carried her silver car 67 feet downstream into a drainage culvert where it was wedged so tightly that firefighters had to break a window to pull her out.

Every year, around 125 people like Bayleigh die because of flooding. Believe it or not, it's the #1 cause of weather-related fatalities in this country. Sure, tornadoes and hurricanes get a lot of attention, but flooding kills the most.

These losses are especially tragic because so many are preventable. As the Red River rises to a 112-year-high this week and floods spread across the upper reaches of the United States, it's worth remembering a few basic rules of survival:

1. Turn Around, Don't Drown. That's the National Weather Service's slogan about floods. If you come upon any kind of flood water, stop, turn around, and find another route. Even shallow-looking water can knock you down or float your vehicle. A good rule of thumb: If you can't see the yellow line on a road, you're in trouble. If it's safe, get out of your car and find higher ground.

2. Your Car Won't Keep You Safe. It may surprise you but vehicles are the number one killers in floods. In fact, as many as 60 percent of flood-related deaths occur because people try to drive through the water, often trying to get home to safety. Here's why driving in a flood is especially dangerous,. Water weighs 62.4 pounds per cubic foot and usually travels between six to 12 miles per hour, depending on the slope. For every foot the water rises, it pushes with 500 pounds of lateral force against your vehicle. In addition, water can carry away even the heaviest car. Indeed, every foot of water lifts around 1,500 pounds of vehicle weight. That's why two feet of water will float a 3,000 pound car.

3. Run - Don't Walk - from Moving Water. Six inches of moving water can knock you down. If you're swept away in a torrent, you'll have to contend with all kinds of unpleasant objects like tree branches, fences, signs, not to mention snakes. So it's always wiser to avoid the water in the first place. If you have a choice, don't even think about stepping into water.

Hundreds of family, friends and classmates attended the funeral for Bayleigh Stovall in El Dorado. Others left pink flowers and pink crosses on the roadside where she crashed. It's a small but growing memorial, friends say, for a special girl with a big heart and personality. It's also a reminder of how quickly a drive home in the rain - or a trip anywhere - can turn deadly.

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A memorial scholarship fund has been organized in Bayleigh Stovall's name. Donations can be made to:

Bayleigh Stovall Thespian Scholarship
c/o Carlson Funeral Home
PO Box 1213
El Dorado, KS 67042

 

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