California’s Greatest Natural Disaster: Do you know your risk?

So we just gathered up whatever we could grab. We did not even bother to rescue anything. You start to get a feel for the power that is going on, that you are not going to be able to stop this. It is just going to keep coming. It is just a sickening feeling, your house is ruined. You’ve got nothing. You know, it is just devastating.
More than half of Californians believe that earthquakes are their greatest natural disaster threat, but in fact – it is not earthquakes or even wildfires – it is flooding.

All of the kitchen nook area was piled, heaped – the chairs. The refrigerator was in the center of the room tipped over. The water level here was above the windows, of course all the way around. It was about, probably nine feet deep. The wall of water is devastating and I had just built a new house. I was married and had two children. My house was in 20 ½ foot of water. It was 40 days before I got back in there to clean it up what was left of it. This was the house that we lived in and this was right on the river. So when the river came up the whole yard was flooded. We had to tear out the walls, take up the flooring. We have had pretty severe flooding in ’69 and then in the early 80’s. The biggest one was in ’97 and we were out for seven weeks until the water was low enough that they could repair that break and we could get back in.

Since 1962 there has been a major flood somewhere in California every single year. The 1997 Central Valley floods alone caused 2.7 billion dollars in damage, 120,000 evacuations and nine deaths. Yet, with all the risk and impacts from floods, only one in ten Californians have done anything to prepare for extensive flooding.

I think it is very hard for people to keep it in mind, with the cycles in our climate here. During the summertime, the river is really a nice place. People are enjoying it. It can really change when the water is rising. Expect the river to misbehave. It will. It is not if, it will.
Even if you do not live directly near a river or a levee, the natural topography of California, especially in the Central Valley, creates many low-lying areas. This puts a lot of people at high risk for flooding who may not even be aware of it. But many who have suffered great losses to flooding, knew there was a risk, and were still caught unprepared.

I think people just see a very nicely developed bunch of houses and it won not affect them. They would not let you live there if it was a problem, right? I should have known better because I went through the 1955 flood. I thought of all places, why would it flood here? Live and learn. I do not think we had a plan for… Evacuating? No. Evacuating. We had just never considered that a major issue even though we were on the river. You lose stuff you can never replace, you know. Once you go through a flood, you never want to go through that again.

Take these simple steps to prepare yourself and your family for a flood.
First and foremost learn about your flood risk by visiting California’s Myfloodrisk website.
Have an emergency plan.
And consider buying flood insurance, whether required for your mortgage or not. Those who have lived through the devastation of flooding offer these additional bits of advice:

I would recommend that they carry flood insurance for sure. But also to check and verify to find out if they’re truly covered. Do not think you are perfectly safe. If you live by that levee try to learn everything you can about it. Are they vulnerable to getting a foot of water in their house or 5 feet of water in their house, or what? You know, they really need to know. Find out where it is going to break or if it does break here, which direction you are going to go. All of the water that we have on the other side of those levees at any given time of year – it is just never safe. What is the worst case scenario? It is the classic line – hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.