How to survive a flood

It’s the rainy season and many states are already facing massive floods. Here are some survival tips to help you prepare for the tough weather.

DO you know that a single condom can hold up to 1.5 litre of water?

So what, you might say?

Well, this can actually help save a life in an emergency situation.

Just take a situation where you have to evacuate to higher ground in a hurry because of floods and you do not have a bottle, container or anything with you to store clean water in – well, that’s when a condom (an unused one,of course) can come in handy.

Just fill it up with water, then tie its ends up like you would a balloon and there you have it – a balloon-like squishy “container” – to store water.

It might sound a bit weird, maybe even yucky to some but if you really think about it, it’s practical.

After all, condoms are durable, which makes sense in desperate times when you need to hold some drinking water – at least until help arrives.

And a packet of condoms is small, light and easy enough to carry around or stick in your pocket as you and your family rush out to evacuate.

This is one unusual but useful tip that the Flood Survival and Drowning Risk Awareness Campaign 2013 shared with members of the public during a recent day-long interactive session at a mall in Cheras to better educate and prepare people for emergency situations and teach them how to use everyday things like condoms, empty mineral bottles, cloth, sand and T-shirts to survive.

Proclaiming to be “the most comprehensive community preparedness for flood and drowning”, the campaign was organised by Malaysian Volunteer Fire & Rescue Associates (MVFRA) and supported by a number of private and government agencies.

Using an improvised life jacker made from a black tee-shirt and three mineral bottles to secure a baby during a flood. This was one of the demonstrations at the Flood Survival and Drowning Risk Awareness campaign organised by MVFRA
Improvised life jacket: A Malaysian Volunteer Fire & Rescue Associates member demonstrating how a T shirt and three plastic bottles can be used to secure your baby during a flood.

P. Ramakrishnan, who is with MVFRA and the president of the Regional Environmental Awareness for Cameron Highlands, believes that people actually already have everything they need in their house to survive an emergency.

“The only thing is not to panic,” he advises.

Another useful lesson at this campaign is learning how to filter dirty water so as to get clean drinking water. Just say you are stuck somewhere for hours during a flood and there is no clean running water.

What do you do when you or your family members get thirsty and are in danger of dehydration but the only water around is filthy muddy flood water?

Ramakrishnan offers a simple solution.

Take an empty water bottle leaving its cap on, cut the bottom off. Then hold it upside down (the cut bottom must face up) and put in a layer of clean cloth at the very bottom, followed by a layer of charcoal, another layer of cloth, a layer of sand, and finish with another layer of cloth.

Now it’s good to go. Scoop up the flood water into that “layered” plastic bottle. The water that has passed through these layers should be reasonably safe to drink, says Ramakrishnan.

“These layers help filter impurities and particles from the water.

“You should put the cleanest cloth right at the bottom because that would be the last layer before you drink the water. Cloth made from silk is the best because only the tiniest particles can pass through,” he says.

He recommends charcoal as the second last layer because charcoal “absorbs poison and odour”. “If you have food poisoning or a bad stomach, doesn’t the doctor usually give you charcoal tablets to clear it?

“And if you have durian in the car, the best way to get rid of the smell is by putting some charcoal in there because that absorbs the smell,” he explains. But how many of us have charcoal lying around our house?

Well, if you don’t have charcoal, no worries. Ramakrishnan suggests using another layer of sand as a substitute instead.

Using empty water bottles as a floatation device to save pets during flood. The bottles are secured under the cage and the pets are left inside the cage and the cages are placed upright in the water.At the Flood Survival and Drowning Risk Awareness campaign
Keeping your pet safe: Secure empty plastic bottles under the cage and place the cage upright in the water.

Another thing that is useful to know is that empty 1.5 litre water bottles make great improvised life jackets.

In fact, says Ramakrishnan, these are even better than the normal manufactured life jackets in an emergency situation because they can stay afloat for days – unlike normal life jackets which can stay afloat for only eight to 48 hours – depending on the quality.

“As long as the bottle is not punctured and water does not get inside, it will continue to float,” he says.

To make one of these improvised life jackets for children including babies, you would need three empty 1.5 litre water bottles and a long-sleeved T-shirt or leggings.

“Whatever material you use, it shouldn’t retain water; otherwise, it wouldn’t float well.

“Polyester is better than cotton because it is lighter and absorbs less water. “So don’t use a pair of jeans because the material is heavy and would drag you under the water rather than float.”

The technique, he says, is to slip one of the bottles through the collar of the tee-shirt horizontally and knot up the collar so that the bottle remains firmly inside.

Then take the second bottle and twist the top of the sleeve of the T-shirt a number of times before sliding the bottle inside the sleeve. And do the same with the other sleeve and the third bottle.

That’s it – your improvised life jacket is ready. You can now place the baby or child face up in the water with the horizontal bottle from the collar of the T-shirt supporting the neck and the two vertical bottles in the sleeves to support the body.

If you get it right, the child will stay afloat.

How to filter your own clean drinking water. At the Flood Survival and Drowning Risk Awareness campaign
Filtering technique: Get clean water through layering.

“If it is a newborn baby, you should stay within arms’ length. But if it is a bigger child, you can tear a strip of that “life-jacket T-shirt” to use like a rope to attach the improvised life jacket with the child on top to your own clothing. It makes it even safer that way.

Ramakrishnan suggests that if you are living in a flood-prone area, you should do a trial run in non-flood conditions first so that you will not panic as much when the real situation arises. Similar techniques using mineral bottles (minus the T-shirt) as flotation devices secured under cages can be used to save pets.

There are other common sense things that one should do during floods like having easy-to-grab-and-eat food like chocolates, biscuits, raisins, bread and noodles kept in plastic bags so that they don’t get wet.

“There is no point having canned food if you don’t have a can opener or rice if there is no electricity and clean water to cook,” says Ramakrishan.

Rodzi Saad from MVFRA demonstrates that it is easy enough to waterproof matches.

“Just stick a match in hot candle wax and make sure it is coated with the wax. Then even if you drop the match in water, you would still be able to light it because the wax acts as a shield against water,” he says.

And when you light a candle during blackouts, he says, don’t put it on top of a piece of paper or stick it just anywhere because it might topple over and burn the place down.

Instead, he suggests, use a shallow container with water in it. The diameter of the container, he says, should be wide enough to cover the whole candle if it does tip over.

Another tip from MVFRA is how to stay safe on the road during flash floods.

Safety activist K. Balasupramaniam and head of MVFRA says during flash floods, those in cars should use a lower gear and try to get to higher ground.

He notes that it is dangerous to drive through floods even in a four-wheel drive because the tyres (depending on the type) can lose grip and start to float and when that happens you lose control of the vehicle.

He recommends looking at the height of the plants and trees along the road and terrain to gauge the depth of the water on the road. It is also best to drive on the divider or towards the middle of the road because the water level should be lowest there.

But if the car stalls or the water rises too fast or too high, he says people should not stay in the car because it can be swept away.

“Wind down the windows and get out.”

And if the power windows don’t work, he says, grab something – it could even be the car seat head rest – and break the side windows (not the windscreen because that is a whole lot hardier and tougher to break than the side windows). Then make your way out.

There are also a number of safety gadgets in the market today like a security hammer with the functions of a torch, beacon, alarm, a blade to cut the seat belt if it gets stuck and a sharp point to break the side window if you need to get out.

Environment , flood , rescue