Floods in New Mexico can happen at a moment's notice. It is important to have an emergency plan to be prepared before storms hit your area. When storms hit, stay away from arroyos, ditches, and acequias. Learn about your community's emergency plans, warning signals, evacuation routes and locations of area emergency shelters.
Wildfire damage to the area of the headwater's watershed can increase the magnitude, intensity, and frequency of downstream flooding events that typically follow monsoon events. The floodwaters can contain hazardous chemicals and debris that can harm people and the water that they drink.
Potential Health Hazards During Flooding
Because flooding water can come in contact and displace whatever is in its path, floodwater can contain several things that can be hazardous to your health. Floodwater can contain downed power lines, human and livestock waste, ash waste with cancer-causing chemicals, household, medical and industrial hazardous waste (e.g., discarded diapers, syringes, industrial chemicals), physical objects such as broken metal, glass, vehicles and the like, and wild or stray animals such as snakes and rodents. In addition, standing flood waters can breed mosquitos that can transmit diseases such as West Nile virus.
Exposure to contaminated flood water can cause wound infections, skin rash, gastrointestinal illness, and tetanus, among other diseases and injuries.
How to prepare
Contact local county resources such as the county manager's office or the planning and zoning committee to find out if your home is located in a flash-flood-prone area or landslide-prone area. There is also information and maps available on the Federal Emergency Management Administration's (FEMA) website (link below in Downloads and Resource). In addition:
- Learn about your community's emergency plans, warning signals, evacuation routes, and locations of emergency shelters.
- Have an emergency plan and practice a flood evacuation route with your family.
- Keep important documents in a water-proof container and in an easily accessible place in case of evacuation.
- Ask a relative or friend to be the "family contact" in case your family is separated during a flood and make sure everyone in your family knows the name, address, and phone number of this contact person.
- Post emergency phone numbers at every phone in the home and program emergency numbers into your mobile phones.
- Inform local authorities about any special needs, such as the elderly or bedridden people, or disabled family members.
- Identify potential home hazards and know how to secure or protect them before the flood strikes.
- Be prepared to turn off electrical power when there is standing water, fallen power lines, or before you evacuate.
- Secure structurally unstable building materials.
- Buy a fire extinguisher and make sure your family knows where it is and how to use it.
- Buy and install sump pumps with back-up power.
- If your water comes from a private water well, slope the soil downward from the well so that water flows away from the well head. Ensure that the well is properly sealed (see Related Topics for Wells and Disasters).
- Have a licensed electrician raise electric components (switches, sockets, circuit breakers and wiring) at least 12" above your home's projected flood elevation. For drains, toilets, and other sewer connections, install back-flow valves or plugs to prevent floodwater from entering.
What to do If your area is under a flood watch or warning
- If you are driving, stay away from arroyos, acequias, ditches, and flood plains even if those areas have not yet received floodwaters.
- Gather the emergency supplies you previously stocked in your home and stay tuned to local radio or television station for updates.
- Be prepared to turn off all utilities at the main power switch and close the main gas valve if evacuation appears necessary.
- Have your immunization records handy or be aware of your last tetanus shot in case you should receive a puncture wound or a wound becomes contaminated during or after the flood.
- Bring outdoor possessions, such as lawn furniture, grills, and trash cans inside or tie them down securely.
Prepare to evacuate
If it appears that evacuation may be necessary, it's important to be prepared for a quick departure, for time spent away from your home or a time without utilities.
- Fill your vehicle's gas tank and make sure the emergency kit for your car is ready.
- Load your vehicle with the supplies such as portable water containers, food, and essential items.
- Tune into your local radio or television station for weather updates.
- Listen for disaster sirens and warning signals.
- Put livestock and family pets in a safe area or designated shelter. Due to sanitation requirements, emergency shelters may accept animals.
- Turn off all utilities at the main power switch and close the main gas valve if evacuation appears necessary.
What to do if you are ordered to evacuate
You should never ignore an evacuation order. Authorities will direct you to leave if you are in a low-lying area or within the greatest potential path of the rising waters. Take essential items with you that you have prepared such as your emergency kit, water, and personal items. If you have time, disconnect appliances to prevent electrical shock when power is restored. Follow the designated evacuation routes and expect heavy traffic. Do not attempt to drive or walk across arroyos, acequias, irrigation ditches or flooded roads.
After the Flood
When returning home, the floodwaters may have receded but there still may be hazards. To safely reenter your home:
- Return during the day to prevent the need for electric lights or use battery powered lights, if needed.
- Have an electrician check the electrical system before turning on the power on.
- Don't enter the home if you smell gas or suspect a leak. Notify the gas company immediately.
- Throw away any food that may have been in the floodwater or, if refrigerated, reached unsafe (warm) temperatures.
- Use clean, safe water. If you have a private well, ensure that water has been tested (see Related Topics below).
- Use generators safely.
- Dry out your home to prevent mold and clean your home safely (see EPA Flooded Homes Cleanup Guidance in Downloads and Resources).