Motorists warned of high-water dangers

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

Most years it’s not hurricanes, lightning or tornadoes that exact the most weather-related fatalities in the United States.
“Each year, more deaths occur due to flooding than from any other severe weather-related hazard,” according to the National Weather Service, which has launched a “Turn Around; Don’t Drown” campaign.
“People underestimate the force and power of water,” it said. “More than half of all flood-related deaths result from vehicles being swept downstream. Of these, many are preventable.”
And they occur not just when dams burst or 100-year-record rains set in.
In May 2010, a Corinth resident died when, while driving through floodwater on Shiloh Road, lost control and ended up in a ditch, where he was trapped underwater.
Particularly dangerous is the possibility of water-covered roads or bridges washing out with motorists not realizing it. Nighttime driving in flooded areas further complicates the danger.
Even water that’s not deep enough to push a vehicle can drown its engine. Trying to escape such a stranded vehicle can bring a new level of danger, because as little as six inches of moving water can sweep pedestrians off their feet.
In another incident in May, law enforcement officers had established roadblocks on either side of a flooded highway in Tippah County. One driver got out of his vehicle and tried to walk through the water, only to lose his balance and be swept downstream.
Sgt. Ray Hall of the Mississippi Highway Patrol said a patrolman who happened to see the driver used his raincoat as a makeshift lifeline and prevented a drowning.
“People don’t have a good understanding of just how strong water is,” Hall said. “It’s very powerful.”
Last year Saltillo placed a sign warning of the danger of flooding on Old Saltillo Road near its crossing with Sand Creek. The sign was part of a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration partnership with state emergency officials to promote flood-zone safety.
“At least once every couple of years, water covers the road there,” said Brian Grissom, Saltillo’s building and zoning administrator. “There had been a car that actually got off the road, and our fire department had to rescue them. In our situation, the road makes a turn, and water obscures the road, and people run into the ditch and get into deeper water.”
The sign makes its point bluntly: “WHEN FLOODED TURN AROUND DON’T DROWN.”

Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@journalinc.com.