Life doesn’t stop because there’s a flood. But it can claim a life in an instant and change the lives of survivors forever.
Just ask Gary Stott, a farmer from Niverville. His older brother Raymond drowned here April 6 when the overflowing Marsh River swept his pickup truck off Alerie Road. It was found three days later submerged in 16 feet of water, 80 feet downstream.
Stott attended a demonstration here where his 61-year-old brother tragically lost his life to show how easily a car can be swept into deep, frigid water. And how fast it can sink.
“You’re not going to drown if your car sinks in two feet of water,” says Gordon Giesbrecht, associate dean (research) of the University of Manitoba’s faculty of kinesiology and recreation. “The problem is the current will move you off of the road.”
A vehicle can float in as little as 18 inches of water and with just a bit of current it can then be moved into deeper water.
The only sure way to avoid that risk is not to drive on flooded roads, said Giesbrecht, who helped organize the event with the RCMP.
There are hundreds of flooded roads across Manitoba this spring. The people who live in areas of frequent flooding are accustomed to sometimes fording them.
But Giesbrecht has some advice for those who do: check the depth of the water first. Even that can be risky, because if you fall you could be swept away.
If the water is less than 12 inches deep and you decide to carry on, Giesbrecht advises unfastening your seatbelt and lowering the car window first. That way if the vehicle floats into deeper water it will be easier to exit the car.
“If you do this with children in the car, you should be shot,” he added.
Getting out of a sinking car is half the battle. You still have to get to shore through freezing water and possibly a strong current.
Sometimes drivers end up in the water with little warning. That might have been the case with Raymond Stott. The road wasn’t flooded earlier in the day. It’s believed he was returning home after nightfall when his truck was washed off the road. It’s also suspected part of the road was washed away – something that usually can’t be detected.
The flooded area was in a dip. Stott might not have seen the water until he was in it.
In those cases Giesbrecht has this advice: undo your seatbelt, roll down the window. If there are any children remove their seatbelts, and then get out.
There isn’t much time. The maroon Dodge Neon Giesbrecht and his colleagues pushed down the road into the water moved 40 or so feet downstream and sunk out of sight in two minutes, 20 seconds.
“A lot of people use their cellphones and that’s the kiss of death because when your vehicle is in the water, the first minute is the most likely time that you’re going to survive and get out because it’s still floating,” he said. “So if you make a phone call it’s going to take at least a minute, so now you’ve frittered away your most opportune time to escape.”
That’s what happened to three North Dakota university students who drowned after driving their vehicle into a slough. Rescuers received a frantic call for help but weren’t able to locate the vehicle until several days later.
Don’t bother trying to open the car door either. There’s too much pressure until the car is completely full of water, but by then most occupants will have drowned, Giesbrecht said.
“Unless you do something drastic – break the window or something to get out of there – you’re just stuck in a sinking coffin basically.”
Breaking a car’s side window is hard. Giesbrecht recommends every vehicle have a Res QMe device hanging from the rear view mirror. It has a spring-loaded centre punch made to shatter car windows.
Familiarity with floods might have desensitized Raymond Stott to the danger he faced, or his truck might have been swept off that dark road before he had a chance to react. Either way it serves as a warning, says Gary Stott.
“Still waters run deep,” he said. “It’s not always the same.
“Learn what you can from it and don’t take the power of that water for granted. It could take my brother. He was pretty wise to the ways around here so it could take anybody.”
Stott said he was emotionally prepared for the demonstration of a sinking car. What was tough was seeing his brother’s truck pulled from the icy water.
Raymond Stott was a family man who loved his community and his work.
“He was a very talented, skilled person, very methodical and strategic in his approach, very wise, well read – knew a little bit about a lot of things.
“He was all those things wrapped into a pretty nice brother,” Stott said with tears in his eyes. [email protected]
“Alotofpeople usetheircellphones andthat’sthekiss ofdeath…”
– GORDON GIESBRECHT