Floods & Flash Floods

What you should know about Flood Safety

Photo of a flooded road

The items on this page page explain what actions to take when you receive a flood watch or warning alert from the National Weather Service for your local area and what to do before, during, and after a flood.

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"Turn Around, Don't Drown."

To stay alive, "Turn Around, Don't Drown." Never attempt to cross floodwater, whether on foot, by swimming, or in a car or SUV.

Flooding causes more deaths in the United States than any other thunderstorm-related hazard. Remember: Just six inches of fast-moving floodwater can knock you off your feet. Two feet of water can sweep an SUV off the road.

When driving:

  • Avoid areas that are already flooded, and areas that are subject to flooding. Seek higher ground.  The depth of water is not always obvious. The roadbed may be washed out, leaving a deep pit.
  • Never try to drive through swift water.
  • Never ignore barriers that warn of flooded or dangerous roads!
  • If floodwaters rise around your car or the car stalls, abandon the car and move to higher ground if you can do so safely.  Many deaths occur when people and cars are swept away by flood waters.
  • Do not park or camp along streams and washes, especially during threatening conditions.
  • Be extra careful at night when it is harder to recognize flood dangers

On foot:

  • Do not walk across a flowing stream if the water is higher than your ankles.  Stop, turn around and go another way.
  • Never try to walk or swim through swift water.Seek higher ground.
  • Keep children away from floodwater! Prevent them from playing near or in drainage outlets and storm water retention basins.
  • Floodwaters may also cause health hazards due to contamination or electricity

Flood Safety: The Facts

  • Six inches of water reaches the bottom of most passenger cars and can cause a loss of control and possible stalling.
  • A foot of water will float many vehicles.
  • Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles including sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and pick-up trucks.

For Further Reading:

Basic Preparedness

Remember: If it has been raining hard for several hours, or steadily raining for several days, be alert to the possibility of a flood.

  • Prepare yourself and your family by creating an Emergency Supply Kit and a Family Disaster Plan. See NJOEM's Basic Preparedness page for more details.
    • Your Kit includes items that will help you stay self-sufficient for up to three days, if needed.
    • Your Plan includes evacuation plans, a place to reunite with loved ones, and an out-of-state contact person.
  • Know your area's flood risk. If unsure, contact your Local or County Office of Emergency Management, local Planning and Zoning Office, or local American Red Cross chapter. Everyone lives in a flood zone!
  • Protect important documents and irreplaceable personal objects (such as photographs). Put them in a place where they won't get damaged by flood water. If major flooding is expected, consider putting them in a storage facility.

Flood Insurance

  • Purchase a flood insurance policy. Your homeowner’s insurances does not cover flood damage so buying a policy is one of the most important things you can do to protect your home and family.
  • Don't wait until a flood is coming to purchase your policy. It normally takes 30 days after a purchase for a flood insurance policy to go into effect.
  • You can obtain a flood insurance policy through your insurance company or agent. Flood insurance is guaranteed through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), administered by FEMA.
  • For more information about the NFIP and flood insurance visit the FloodSmart.gov web site, contact your insurance company or agent, or call the NFIP at 1-888-FLOOD29 or TDD# 1-800-427-5593.

Steps to protect your home

FEMA offers a wealth of information on protecting your home, business and other property with the documents located on the  "FEMA: Protect Your Property from Flooding" web page.

Tips include:

  • Take photos or videos of all your important possessions. If your home is damaged in a flood, these documents will help you file a full flood insurance claim.
  • Buy and install sump pumps with back-up power.
  • Have a licensed electrician raise electric components [pdf] (switches, sockets, circuit breakers and wiring) at least 12 inches above your home's projected flood elevation.
  • For drains, toilets and other sewer connections, install backflow valves [pdf] or plugs to prevent floodwaters from entering.
  • Anchor fuel tanks [pdf]. An unanchored tank in your basement can be torn free by flood waters, and the broken supply line can contaminate your basement. An unanchored tank outside can be swept downstream, where it can damage other houses.
  • If your washer and dryer are in the basement, elevate them on masonry or pressure-treated lumber at least 12 inches above the projected flood elevation.
  • Place the furnace and water heater on masonry blocks or concrete at least 12 inches above the projected flood elevation
  • Check the items in your Emergency Kit and review your family emergency plan
  • Listen for instructions from public safety officers and the National Weather Service.
    • Flood or Flash Flood Watch: issued by the National Weather Service and means flooding or flash flooding is possible in your area.
    • Flood or Flash Flood Warning: issued by the National Weather service and means a flood or flash flood will occur very soon or is already occurring.

Protect your home and secure valuables.

  • Fill bathtubs, sinks and jugs with clean water in case tap water supplies become contaminated.Tip: Sanitize the sinks and bathtubs by using bleach. Rinse, then fill with clean water.
  • Move valuables, such as papers, furs, jewelry and clothing to upper floors or higher elevations.
  • Bring outdoor items inside or tie down securely, for example lawn furniture, grills and trashcans.
  • If waters start to rise inside your house before you have evacuated, retreat to the second floor, the attic, and if necessary, the roof.
  • If public officials instruct you to do so, shut off water and electricity.
  • Leave natural gas service ON unless local officials advise you otherwise.

Prepare to evacuate, in case public safety officials direct you to do so.

  • Fill your car's gas tank, or listen for evacuation instructions for those who depend on public transit.
  • If told to evacuate by public safety officials, do so immediately. See the Evacuation instructions below.

Avoid coming in contact with floodwaters.

  • Wash your hands with soap and disinfected water if you touch floodwaters. Floodwaters may carry raw sewage, chemical waste and other disease-spreading substances.
  • Stay away from downed power lines and electrical wires.Electric current passes easily through water. 
  • Do not try to swim to safety!
  • Do not drive, walk or swim through floodwaters. Remember: Turn Around, Don't Drown!
  • Look out for animals, especially snakes that may be seeking higher ground to avoid floodwaters.

If Directed To Evacuate:

  • Do not evacuate unless or until directed to do so by public safety officials.
  • When directed to evacuate, follow the instructions you are given by public safety officials. Heed their advice immediately.
  • Leave as soon as possible.
  • Bring your Emergency Kit.
  • Dress for the prevailing weather conditions, at minimum a long sleeve shirt, pants, and sturdy shoes.
  • Take your pets with you. Remember that pets (other than assistance animals for people with disabilities) are not permitted in emergency shelters. You must follow your plan to go to a friend's home or a pet-friendly hotel.
  • Lock your home.
  • Use travel routes specified by local authorities - don't use shortcuts because certain areas may be impassable or dangerous.
  • Avoid flooded roads and washed-out bridges. Stay away from downed power lines.
  • If you are sure you'll have time:
    • Call your family contact to tell them where you are going and when you expect to arrive.
    • Shut off water and electricity before leaving, if instructed to do so. Leave natural gas service ON unless local officials advise you otherwise.
  • Listen to local authorities. They will provide you with the most accurate information specific to an event in your area. Stay tuned to local radio and television. A battery-powered radio is a vital part of your Emergency Kit.

If you have evacuated

  • Return home only after authorities advise it is safe to do so. Keep tuned to your local radio and TV stations for recovery information.
  • Beware of downed or loose and sagging power lines. Report them immediately to the power company, police or fire department.
  • Avoid flooded roads and washed-out bridges. Continue to monitor all forms of media to stay informed.

If your home was flooded

  • Check for structural damage before reentering your home. Do not go in if there is a chance the building will collapse.
  • Enter your home with caution.
    • Beware of snakes, insects and other animals driven to higher ground by floodwater.
    • Open windows and doors to ventilate and dry your home.
    • Check refrigerated foods for spoilage.
    • Use the telephone for emergency calls only.
  • Do not use matches, cigarette lighters or other flames in the home, since gas may be trapped inside.
  • Find out who supplies your utilities by visiting The State of New Jersey Board of Public Utilities web site.
  • Keep power off until an electrician has inspected your home for safety.
  • Inspect the utilities in your home.
    • Check for gas leaks - If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you can and call the gas company from a neighbor's home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.
    • Look for electrical system damage - If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice.
    • Check for sewage and water line damage - If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid water from the tap. You can obtain safe water by melting ice cubes.
    • Take pictures of any damage for insurance claims.
  • If in doubt, throw food out.
    • Throw away any foodthat has come in contact with floodwaters, even canned goods.
    • You can find detailed guidance on deciding whether refrigerated and frozen food items are still safe on the Foodsafety.gov web site.
  • Boil water for drinking and food preparation until authorities declare your water supply is safe.
  • Saving Personal Photographs after the Flood: FEMA web site.
  • Tips For the Care for Water-Damaged Family Heirlooms and Other Valuables
    American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works web site
  • Let a relative or friend know you are back at home. Tell them how to get in touch with you, if phone service has been interrupted

Insurance claims and rebuilding

  • If your home has suffered damage, call the agent who handles your flood insurance to file a claim. If you are unable to stay at home, make sure to say where you can be reached.
  • Follow local building codes and ordinances when rebuilding. Use flood-resistant materials and techniques to protect your property from future flood damage.
  • Learn more about rebuilding Safer, Stronger, Protected Homes & Communities from FEMA.

For Further Reading

Are rivers in your area reaching flood levels?

Floods are among the most frequent natural hazards in New Jersey, and among the most devastating in terms of human hardship and economic loss.

The greatest risks occur in known flood plains when there is:

  • Intense rainfall over a short period of time,
  • Prolonged rain over several days, and/or
  • Ice or debris jams causing river or streams to overflow.

Risks can occur anytime of the year.

  • Melting snow can combine with rain in the winter and early spring
  • Severe thunderstorms can bring heavy rain in the spring and summer
  • Hurricane or tropical storms can bring intense rainfall in the summer and fall.

Floods and Flash Floods each provide unique risks.

  • Floods develop over several hours or several days. Streets can become swift-moving rivers, creating great danger for pedestrians and drivers. Basements, buildings and entire swaths of land can become inundated, leading to deadly hazards, dangerous structural damage, and lost property or crops.
  • Flash Floods occur with little or no warning and are deadly and fast moving. They can begin within the first hours of a rain event, or after a dam or levee failure, or following the sudden release of water held back by an ice or debris jam. Their power can roll boulders, tear out trees, destroy buildings and bridges, scour out new channels and can also trigger catastrophic mudslides.


American Red Cross


FLASH, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes

Blueprint For Safety

  • Blueprint for Safety web site. Information on disaster-friendly building techniques to help families become better prepared for floods, hurricanes, wildfires and windstorms.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection