Three things you need to know about flooding
The risk of floods is growing in England and Wales. Find out how to prepare your home – and how to get help from the British Red Cross and others if you’re affected.
1. What are floods and what is causing them?
Floods are the most common and widespread of all weather-related natural disasters.
Flooding happens when water overflows onto land that is normally dry. This happens during heavy rain, when ocean waves come on shore, when snow melts too fast, or when dams or levees break.
In 2020, England received 141 per cent of its average February rainfall over less than two weeks during a series of storms. Flood defences across Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire and more were overrun, and the heavy rain filled drains too quickly, spilling water back onto the streets.
Climate change, a growing population and less green space are causing floods, according to the Environment Agency. Extreme weather events are four times more likely than in 1970. And since 1910, there have been 17 record-breaking months of rainfall. Nine of these have been since the year 2000.
Experts warn that flooding will be an increasing problem as towns and cities get bigger. When we build on areas of land near rivers and it rains a lot, the risk of flooding is high. Concrete cannot absorb the water if rivers overflow.
2. Why are floods a problem?
Flooding destroys homes, disrupts transport and bankrupts businesses. It can overload sewers and contaminate flood water, spreading disease.
Six inches of fast-flowing water can knock you over, and two feet can float a car. During the floods caused by Storm Dennis in February, a woman died after being swept away.
If extreme weather intensifies and river management and urban planning isn’t reviewed, we risk more flooding. The emergency services could be overstretched. The elderly and impoverished may be isolated. Communities like those in Calder Valley, Yorkshire, may struggle to recover as they are flooded time and time again.
Floods can leave people needing food, shelter, medication, clothing and cash. Some may need help to return to work and transport to get there. The average cost to repair a flooded home is an eye-watering £30,000. And post-flooding insurance claims are often gruelling, as this podcast explains.
People whose homes, businesses or communities have been flooded can need support for days, months and even years. We know the public are not ready, either.
Our recent report suggests that a quarter of UK adults think they will be affected by a major emergency. Yet more than two-thirds (70%) admit that nobody in their household has taken steps to prepare.
3. What do flood warnings mean?
Flood warnings are issued by the government during heavy rainfall.
- A flood alert means you need to prepare for flooding. Get a bag ready that includes your medicines and insurance documents. Regularly check your flood risk and sign up for flood warning.
- A flood warning means you need to act – flooding is expected. You should do all the actions for a flood alert but also turn off your gas, water and electricity. Take your things upstairs, and move your family, pets and car to safety. Put up any sandbags or flood barriers if you have them.
- A severe flood warning means your life is at risk. Call 999 if you are in immediate danger. Follow the advice from the emergency services and make sure you have an emergency kit. Alert your neighbours. Avoid driving or walking through flood water.
Together we can be ready
We are working alongside the government, the emergency services and other charities to make plans to protect our homes, our livelihoods and the most vulnerable people in our communities. But you can be ready too.
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