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The El Nino phenomenon in late 1988 and early 1999 brought record rainfall to Santa Barbara, Ventura and several other California cities. It also caused 17 deaths and more than $550 million in property losses statewide.

Even though El Nino has come and gone, it's important that Californians prepare for potential flooding.

Each year, severe storms cause flash floods, contaminate the drinking water supply, and disrupt electrical service and damage homes and contents. They also can strand individuals playing near or crossing streams, rivers, flood control channels and intersections.

From 1975-1998, winter storms claimed the lives of 103 residents, caused approximately 600 injuries and more than $61 billion in property and agricultural losses. The winter storms of 1995 and 1997 alone combined to cause 36 deaths and more than $3 billion in property losses.

The comparison of rainfall averages for El Nino event years and average years distinctly illustrates the problems faced when water volumes exceed the normally expected runoff:

City County
El Nino Rainfall
Avg. Rainfall
Los Angeles Los Angeles
31.01 in.
14.77 in.
San Diego San Diego
17.78 in.
9.9 in.

This illustrated that the infrastructure and systems are asked to double their capacity to handle the normally expected runoff. Please use this information and the recommendations that follow to help reduce the risk of death, injury and property losses from flooding wherever at home, work or play.

Before the Storm
Be prepared to respond before the rains and flooding begin:

  • Assemble emergency supply kits for the home and place of work. Include the following items:
- Flashlights and extra batteries.
- Sandbags
- Plastic sheeting
- Plywood
- Lumber
  • Store emergency building materials in a location away from potential flooding.
  • Store a seven-day supply of water (at least one gallon per person per day) in closed, clean containers.
  • Teach children not to play in or near rivers, streams, or other areas of potential flooding.
  • Maintain fuel in cars; electrical outages might make gasoline pumps inoperable.
  • Identify safe routes from the home or work place to high, safe ground. Determine whether these routes can be used during flooding or storms. Be familiar with your geographic surroundings.
  • Check with local public works, building, or planning department to see if the residence is in an area subject to flooding.
  • Clear debris and overgrowth from on-site drainage facilities.
  • Notify the local department of public works about debris and overgrowth in public drainage facilities.
  • Work with neighbors to solve potential drainage problems and to avoid diverting debris onto their properties. Consult with a licensed civil engineer if in doubt.

When There's a Storm Warning or Watch

  • Relocate valuables from lower to upper floors.
  • Be prepared to move to a safe area before floodwaters cut off access when local authorities advise.
  • Identify an out-of-state contact so that friends and relatives can obtain information about your conditions and whereabouts.
  • Disconnect all electrical appliances or turn off electric circuits at the fuse panel or circuit breaker panel before evacuating.
  • Shut off gas service at the meter and water service at the main valve.

During the Storm

  • Avoid unnecessary trips.
  • Do not drive or walk through moving water.
  • Do not 'sightsee' or enter restricted areas.
  • Stay away from streams, rivers, flood control channels and other areas subject to sudden flooding.
  • Move to higher ground if caught in rising waters.
  • Abandon the car immediately if it stalls. Seek higher ground. Attempts to move stalled vehicles have caused many deaths.
  • Listen to the radio or watch television for information and instructions.
  • Use the phone only to report dangerous conditions or emergencies that are life threatening. Report damaged utilities to the appropriate agencies.

After the Storm

  • Listen to the radio or watch television for information and instructions from local officials.
  • Call the utility companies to restore service.
  • Do not use fresh or canned foods that have come in contact with floodwaters.
  • Follow the instructions of local officials regarding the safety of drinking water. Boil or purify water if in doubt. Pump out wells and test the water before drinking.
  • Avoid going into disaster areas.
  • Stay away from live electrical equipment in wet areas. Check electrical equipment or appliances that come in contact with water before using them.
  • Maintain a safe distance from downed power lines and broken gas lines; immediately report them to the appropriate utility.
  • Use flashlights, rather than lanterns, candles or matches, to check on the condition of buildings. Flammables may be present.

Flood Insurance
Damage and other flooding losses are not covered by most homeowner's insurance policies. However, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers special flood insurance through its National Flood Insurance Program. Contact the insurance agent or call FEMA at (800) 638-6620 for more information.

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