Car caught in flash flood? Here’s what to do

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The recent deadly floods in Kentucky have brought new attention to the dangers of quickly rising waters, which can be of particular concern to motorists.

Whether near riverbeds or in dry deserts hit by storms, roads can quickly become inundated and give drivers little time to react.

While the National Weather Service’s “Turn Around Don’t Drown” campaign advises drivers to avoid going through standing water at all times, it’s possible to find water rushing toward a vehicle and leaving nowhere to turn toward safety.

As little as a foot of flowing water can carry a car away and severe flooding can pull vehicles into deeper areas and completely underwater.

The Kentucky River in Jackson, Kentucky, overflowed its banks on July 28 and flooded surrounding roads.
(LEANDRO LOZADA/AFP via Getty Images)

Dozens of Americans die each year in this scenario, and in Australia, which has many areas that are susceptible to flash floods, the local automobile safety rating organization is planning to add an evaluation that aims to determine how long systems like electric windows remain operational when the vehicle is submerged.


Mike Berna is a regional director and instructor with the Rescue 3 International group, which provides training to emergency services. He shared several simple survival steps with Fox News Autos that drivers should keep in mind when they find themselves in a flooded area.

Vehicles as large as trucks can be swept away by fast-moving floodwater.
(Arden S. Barnes/For The Washington Post via Getty Images))

Berna said to never drive through water that’s more than halfway up your tires, regardless of the type of vehicle you’re in. That’s deep enough to cause it to float and be swept away.


“First, you should undo your seatbelt in case the vehicle flips over,” he said, “but don’t immediately exit the vehicle because your chances of surviving a fast-moving flood ar reduced when you are floating in the water unprotected.” It’s best to crack a window open before the power is lost, rather than roll it all the way down, which will help keep water out of the cabin while making the glass easier to break, if necessary.

First responders in Apache Junction, Arizona, rescued a driver from a car caught in a flood on July 28.
(Apache Junction Police Department)

Once the vehicle starts filling up with water, however, it’s time to start thinking about getting out and getting onto the roof, rather than swimming away. This will keep you better protected and make it easier for rescuers to spot you than if you’re just bobbing in the water alone, he said.

You’ll have to roll the window down now, or break it by striking a bottom corner with something hard. A small window hammer tool is good to keep in a vehicle if you live in a flood-prone area, but you can also remove the front seat headrest and use the posts to smash the glass.

A window hammer has a sharp, metallic point designed to break glass.
(Jules Annan/Avalon/Getty Images)

After that, Berna said to pull out the seatbelt to use as a hand-hold in case you slip, then to use the seat, armrest and windowsill as steps to get to the roof.

If you slip off at that point, or if the vehicle becomes completely submerged, he said to either swim to the nearest high ground or to grab onto something solid that’s not moving in the water.


Berna’s best advice, however, is to keep track of emergency warnings in any wet weather emergency and heed them immediately.

“Evacuate the area as soon as possible,” he said. “Once the flooding starts, it might be too late.”

Gary Gastelu is’s Automotive Editor covering the car industry and racing @foxnewsautos

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