VALLEY PARK, MO - The State Emergency Management Agency calls flooding Missouri's deadliest severe weather. Over the past four years, 87 percent of victims of flooding-related deaths have been in a vehicle, emphasizing the dangers of driving through flooded areas.
New details released by the agency Monday (Feb. 25) say 39 people have died during flooding events in Missouri over the last four years. Of those deaths, 34 victims were in vehicles.
First responders warn it does not take much water to cause a vehicle to lose control.
"Studies have shown six inches can knock a person over, and only 12 inches can sweep a car off the road," said Ryan Dreiling, Firefighter/Paramedic with West County EMS & Fire and member of the fire district's swift water rescue team.
About half of the district's employees are certified members of the swift water rescue team. The selection is rigorous, and the training is ongoing.
These firefighters shed the traditional bunker gear for life jackets, chainsaws, shovels, ropes, and dry suits.
"The water can be very cold, especially at this time of year," said John Schenk, engineer, and swift water rescue team member.
It may seem like a lot of gear to load onto an inflatable boat, but Schenk said they have to be prepared because they never know what they might need during the rescue efforts. They often receive little more than a location.
Officials urge drivers to pay attention to signs warning of flooded roads, and never drive around barricades. Trooper Dallas Thompson with Missouri Highway Patrol asks drivers to be alert when driving through unfamiliar areas or at night when visibility is low.
"You can come over a hill and into a valley and be in the water before you even realize it," he said. "If you hit that at 25 to 40 mile an hour, you're going to be like a tidal wave and bad things can happen."
The State Emergency Management Agency says small creeks, streams, and low-water crossings are the most dangerous places. They fill and spill over quickly.
"Just a little bit of water can turn into a lot really quick," said Dreiling. "We always say, if you find yourself in that predicament, just to stay calm, don't panic, call 9-1-1."
After calling for help, Dreiling recommends drivers take off their seat belt, roll down the vehicle windows, and unlock the door. If possible, safely get to higher ground as rapidly rising water may engulf the vehicle and sweep it away.