The Pryor Times

March 22, 2014

Flood safety week: ‘Turn Around, Don’t Drown’

Staff Writer
Cydney Baron

PRYOR, OK — “The biggest problem we have with flooding in Mayes County, is people driving into flood waters,” said Mayes County Emergency Management Director Johnny Janzen.

According to Janzen, people don’t always heed the warning of the Turn Around Don’t Drown signs.

As part of Flood Safety Week, Janzen pointed out some places in Mayes County most prone to flooding.

“In Pryor, the high-probability areas are South Elliott, 49th Street and west 510 Road. These roads are typically the first to flood in the county,” said Janzen, adding that Pryor, Salina, and Adair experience the most flooding in the county. “South of Sam’s Corner typically floods pretty bad.”

He said the area near Twin Bridges, True Road and Strang Road as high-probability flood zones.

“Between Chimney Rock and True Road floods pretty bad, and has high volume flooding,” said Janzen. “Anywhere there’s a low water crossing can flood pretty significantly.”

Janzen said people often look at water-covered roadways and believe their vehicle can make it across.

“The thing about that is you can’t tell what’s happened to the road underneath the water. Sometimes the road is completely gone, like what happened on Kenwood Road,” said Janzen.

According to the National Weather Service, flooding causes more property damange in the United States than any other weather-related event. Last year, 85 people died in freshwater flooding, according to NWS, and more than half of those fatalities were people driving into floodwaters.

On average, there are 89 fatalities and $8.3 billion in damages due to flooding annually, according to NWS reports.

“This is where prevention comes in,” said MCEM Deputy Director Mike Dunham. “It’s as simple as not driving into flooded roadways. Pay attention to weather reports and plan alternate routes if you know your usual roads are prone to flooding.”

Dunham said monitoring weather reports and utilizing flash flood alert messages sent to cell phones can play a key role in avoiding these dangerous situations.

“The Center for Disease Control reports that over half of all flood-related drownings occur when a vehicle is driven into hazardous floodwater,” said Dunham. “So it’s important to take the Turn Around Don’t Drown signs seriously.”

NWS reports that it only takes six inches of fast-moving floodwater to knock over an adult and only two feet of rushing water to carry away even heavy vehicles.

“Keep an eye on weather reports. You never know when heavy rain will turn into flash flooding,” said Janzen.

When asked what steps a driver should take if they have driven into flood waters, Janzen said there’s no simple answer.

“Every situation is unique, that’s why avoiding floodwaters is so crucial, the response is different for every situation. My advice would be to call 911 and report your location, they will help determine what course of action is best for your situation,” said Janzen. “But I cannot stress enough, simply avoid these roads when there is a possibility of flooding.”

Janzen added that Mayes County residents are lucky in that all area fire departments are well trained in water rescue.