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Heavy rains and flooding – Tips to help keep your loved ones and possessions safe

Following a recent La Niña advisory by the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), heavy rains and floods have hit large parts of the country.

“La Niña is an intermittent climate phenomenon caused by the cooling of surface ocean water along the tropical west coast of South America.  What this means for South Africans is that it’s wetter than usual, with an increased risk of flooding.  Extra vigilance on the roads and at home is required,” says Ricardo Coetzee, Head of Auto & General Insurance.

Auto & General Insurance offers the following advice to keep in mind:

Floods

  • If you live in a flood prone area, it is sensible to purchase your own supply of sandbags which can be placed against doorways and low level vents in times of flooding to help minimise the amount of water that enters your home.  Also move high value items to the highest possible floor or shelf if a flood threatens.
  • General and regular home maintenance, like clearing debris from gutters, is essential and will most definitely limit damages and discomfort in times of disaster.
  • Turn off gas and electricity if flooding occurs.
  • Motorists should not attempt to drive in flood conditions. Remember that just 15cm of moving water can knock you off your feet and water just 60cm deep can sweep a vehicle away. Generally, if the water is deeper than the bottom of your doors or the bottom third of your wheels, it is not advisable to drive through it.
  • Flash flooding often occurs when rivers flow over low-lying bridges.  Avoid crossing bridges or roads next to rivers during heavy rains. If you do get stuck on a flooded road, it’s best to switch to the lowest possible gear and proceed slowly. If you approach a flooding storm water drain at speed, it is advisable to take your foot off the accelerator and let your speed drop gradually. Never use the brakes suddenly because this may cause the car to skid or aquaplane.
  • If trapped in a vehicle during flooding, rather abandon the vehicle and climb to higher ground. It is dangerous to try and drive out of the water to safety.

Severe thunderstorms, wind and lightning

  • Make sure that any dead and rotting branches are removed from trees to avoid the risk of falling debris during a severe storm. Also ensure that debris is removed from roofs and gutters.
  • Make sure that your outdoor furniture is safely stored or firmly secured.
  • The power surge of a lightning strike can easily overload most appliances and devices. It’s best to unplug these before the storm arrives.
  • If you’re on the road and visibility is too poor or the road is too slippery, rather pull over and switch on your car’s hazards until visibility or traction improves.
  • Avoid taking shelter under trees, as this increases the risk of falling debris causing damage or injury.

Hail 

  • When hail is forecasted, try to make arrangements to park your car undercover and delay travelling until the storm has subsided.
  • If you are caught in a hail storm, look for cover. This could include a covered car park, a petrol station or under a bridge. However, take extreme care when pulling-over, put on your hazard lights, and don’t risk your safety or the safety of others by dashing madly for cover.
  • Don’t park under trees as there is a danger of falling branches and debris. Stay in your car and only leave the safety of your sheltered spot when the storm has passed.
  • If there is no shelter nearby, motorists are urged to pull-over onto the side of the road if it is safe to do so. In an unsheltered spot, hail damage is inevitable but, it is safer not to drive through a storm when visibility is poor, the roads are slick and there is a risk of aquaplaning through deep pools of water and hail.
  • Another idea is to keep heavy blankets in your car.  This will provide you with a protective covering you can throw over the bonnet of your car to prevent hail damage.

Inspect your home

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Coetzee notes that now is the ideal time to inspect your homes to avoid an expensive, but avoidable, disaster.

  • Clear eaves and gutters regularly. Leaves and other debris could prevent water from effectively draining away from the roof.
  • Check the roof for tiles that may have shifted, deteriorated waterproofing, parts of thatched roofs that are slipping etc. Also do an inspection of the inside of the roof to make sure that it seals properly. No sunlight should be visible, because if sunlight can sneak through, water can too.
  • Check all door and window frames, especially those made of wood, as well as walls, floors and foundations for cracks where water can seep in.
  • Make sure that draining channels, pipes and holes are in a good condition and keep an eye out for water pooling when it rains. A build-up of water in your yard or around your house could cause rising damp and foundation problems. Use (preferably environmentally friendly) drain cleaners often, even if there are no drain problems.
  • The pressure of strong wind, heavy hail or an excess amount of water can push trees and structures to their limits. Branches, garden furniture, tools or parts of structures that come loose can become dangerous projectiles. Check everything that gets exposed to the elements and address any risks immediately.

“Last but certainly not least – the adage – it can never happen to me – does not apply and it is always better to be safe rather than sorry.  We urge consumers not to overlook the benefits and the necessity of insurance,” concludes Coetzee.

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