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Turn Around, Don’t Drown: Why you need to think twice before crossing water in the road

Several roads were inaccessible earlier this week due to flooding. Here’s how and why to take precautions as rain chances continue.

A submerged vehicle on South Hickory as viewed from West Davis street. Photo by Charles Betzler.

This signage is seen quite often on roadways that are prone to flooding. They are there for a very good reason. Driving through a flooded roadway could cost you your life and that of any occupants in your vehicle.

Even if the water appears shallow enough to drive through, DON’T do it! Water hides dips in the road, and, in severe flooding with rushing water, an entire section of a roadway may have collapsed.

A mere six inches of water can reach the bottom of many passenger vehicles, causing loss of control or stalling. One foot of standing water will cause most vehicles to float. Two feet of rushing water can sweep away most vehicles, including large SUVS and pickups.

In the mid 1970s, I was following a friend in his Javelin AMX, heading west in the 100 block of West Bryan Avenue. I was driving a relatively new Subaru. My friend slowed down, then proceeded through the water (which was running over the curb) and he made it the other side of water before his car stalled. I decided to go through the water. After all, he made it, right?

I had not taken into account the deep dip in the street, and as I drove about 3 feet into the water, my car stalled and it started floating. I wound up on the other side of the street almost perpendicular to the curb, barely missing a parked car. Words cannot describe the feeling of helplessness as my car started floating. I had to come back later that day with my El Camino and pull the sad little car home. I spent two days draining fluids, cleaning out the carburetor and distributor. My foolhardy stunt nearly ruined my car.

Although my friend and I were quite foolish, we survived. However, many people do not!

When I was the Emergency Management Director for the City of Glenpool, I took NOAA classes taught by the Director of the Tulsa NWS. One session explained the dangers of driving through flooded waters. I will never forget the still shots of a man who drove through a collapsed roadway and the water rising past his windows. A few frames later, he and the car were completely submerged—help could not reach him quickly enough—he drowned. Eighty percent of all flood-related deaths occur inside a vehicle.

Yesterday, I was approaching the intersection of 151st and South Hickory Street, when I saw only a few inches of water on the roadway, but I wasn’t going to take a chance. A fellow behind me, upset that I stopped and would not go through the water, went around me. A few yards later, his car stalled in the middle of road. I also observed a submerged car on South Hickory Street, south of the bridge.

I can only hope the occupant(s) made it to safety. So the next time you feel like your vehicle will make it through a flooded roadway, remember, it is not worth risking your life.

About the Author

Long-time Sapulpa resident, Charles Betzler, followed his father, Charlie, into the radio and TV repair business. At age 9, he fixed his first broken radio and his first love is vintage audio equipment. In his 50 + years of technical work, graduation from OSUIT, and years of Continuing Education, Charles, in his capacity as Emergency Management Director of nearby city, designed the Emergency Operations Center, and the radio-activation system for the sirens. In his long career, he has repaired every type of consumer electronics from black-and-white TVs to the latest lap-top.

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