Flash floods prompt safety advice from city officials

Jasleen Shokar

Heavy rainfall and flooding in the past month have led to several incidents of drowning in Austin-area waterways. 

 As a result, a watercraft ban was instituted on Lake Austin, Lady Bird Lake and the Colorado River during the first two weeks of June. 

 Austin Parks and Recreation also closed the Greenbelt for a short period, citing “unsafe conditions such as flooding, debris and erosion on the trails” in a press release.

LeAnn Ishcomer, the Park Ranger program manager for the City of Austin, said one of the main safety issues they face is water on the trail. 

 “When water is too high, don’t go in it, it is unpredictable,” Ishcomer said. 

She also stressed the importance of planning ahead and traveling on durable surfaces.

 “Know where you are going, bring a map with you and bring your cellphone,” Ishcomer said.

 Michael Segner, state coordinator for the National Floodplain Insurance Program of the Texas Water Development Board, said they have been working with communities that have experienced some of the worst flooding and have been helping them improve safety measures. 

“We’ve been extremely busy  the past few months with those communities that have been affected by high waters and historic floods throughout Texas,” Segner said. “The emphasis is on safety in those communities, whether it be putting in warning devices, or sirens and early warning systems.” 

 Segner said there is a grant program with up to $2 million that the board has made available for communities to apply for. 

 Texas Water Development Board has doubled their outreach staff to talk with different organizations and communities about the perils of floods, Segner said.

 “There’s a great saying out there, I’m sure you’ve seen the ‘turn around don’t drown,’” Segner said. “The kids get it, but the adults we still have issues with. Adults are driving through low water crossings so we’re trying to come up with better ways to do outreach with them.”

 Segner said one of themost important things to be aware of is your environment.

 “Know your surroundings, if you’re not on the highest piece of ground, get to know where that’s going to be, and if you can get there safely, make that a priority,” Segner said.

In the summertime when people are on vacation, Segner said people are often in unfamiliar areas and need to be aware. 

 Captain Darren Noak of the Austin-Travis County EMS said they are constantly putting out information on how to stay safe via
social media.

 “With every potential flood and storming situation we utilize our Twitter and Facebook accounts,” Noak said. “We share information about radars and predicted rain falls. We’re trying to get everyone in the public as informed as we can and make them aware of the dangers that are out there.”

 When water is covering a road, Noak said people may not know what lies under the surface, even if you have crossed the road hundreds of times before.

 “We live in the flash flood capital of the world, and that means a wall of water could easily wash you and your car away,” Noak said.

 Noak said their main priorities are to alert people of incoming threatening weather and the damage it can cause through social media, their website and doing interviews with local media.

 “It only takes six inches of swiftly moving water to sweep a full grown person off their feet,” Noak said.