‘Turn around, don’t drown’ Flood safety tips

As floods threaten Central Iowa, drivers may be tempted to drive through standing or moving water on roadways.

“Turn around, don’t drown,” is the advice given by the National Weather Service.

And it is heartily endorsed by Marshalltown Chief of Police Mike Tupper and Sgt. Ben Veren of the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office. Tupper is a law enforcement veteran having worked in Ottumwa, Nevada and Marshalltown. Veren has traffic and driver safety responsibilities for the MCSO and in his 13th year of law enforcement.

Over the years, both have seen drivers testing the unknown depths of standing water.

“Water level is deceiving, you do not know what it is until you get in it,” Veren said. “A roadway could be washed out underneath, and it only takes a few inches of moving water to sweep some vehicles off the roadway into a ditch which is worse … where water might be deeper.”

Veren said it is wise to plan one’s route accordingly.

“Water over roadways is a dangerous situation and not worth the risk,” Tupper said.

Only six inches of standing water can be enough to stall an engine in a low-clearance vehicle, and cause irreparable damage to the engine block.

One foot of water can be enough to dislodge a car from the surface and cause it to begin to float away, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency. In 2012 the NWS launched the “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” campaign because more deaths occur from flooding than any other severe weather-related hazard, and over half of the deaths are from vehicles driving into floodwaters.

Des Moines broadcaster Larry Cotler died in July when he was swept away in floodwater after his van stalled on a flooded street.

Witnesses told police the man was swept away as he got out of his van and entered the water. His body was found nearly four hours later, several blocks away. The flooding was fueled by 3 to 8 inches of rain that fell throughout the area.

“The speed and how long that rain fell caught us by surprise,” a Des Moines police spokesperson said.

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Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611 or mdonahey@timesrepublican.com